Setting: Melbourne, Australia. [There is a lot of excellent, largely undiscovered crime fiction by Australian and Australian resident authors. Peter Temple is one of the best of a substantial bunch.]
Story: Inspector Stephen Villani, head of the Homicide Squad, is called to a murder scene in an expensive part of Melbourne. The body of a young girl, naked, with her neck broken, is discovered. No clothes, no clues. The apartment is part of a mega modern new complex with ultra high level security that did not work. And the complex sits atop the latest casino in town, sharing the same defective security system. Next up, Villani’s squad are called to a lockup with three murder victims, two of them trussed and obviously tortured before their end. At the same time, a noted entrepreneur is pressing the authorities to support his public trainsport initiative.
Oh, and then there’s the soon to be election, with political favors being sought and traded. Villani has to navigate his way through the murders, find the killers, and keep his job. If that were not bad enough, one of his daughters, an addict, has gone missing. His home life is not a happy one. Then there are his brothers and his dad. His relationships are not straightforward. Finally, there is an outbreak of fires which is threatening the outlying areas, including his father’s home and beloved forest.
Good Stuff: Temple writes sparingly; prose that makes razor sharp seem dull, and a roller coaster ride seem smooth. He delivers a stream of a story that rushes the reader along, from crisis to crisis, and from twist to turn and back again. Villani’s character builds substantially as the story progresses; another defective detective, whose shortcomings are laid bare for the audience to see and know and ponder about. What would we have done? Temple knows police work and politics, and he meshes them superbly.
His handling of the various factions, their use of the media, and the battering that ordinary policeman face, seems spot on.
He is good at the champagne and canapes party scene as well. He builds an atmospheric picture with few words, some devilish dialogue, and good observations. It’s almost like you were there.
As you delve deeper, there’s a distinct smell of corruption and some horrible life choices, presented to you in such a way as to suggest they are based on some true episodes. But this is not a gung-ho, might is right narrative; there is plenty of food for thought and cause for reflection amidst the bloody violence and the shock of impact of the crimes.
The plot is a real Rolls-Royce job, and the twists are like gilded finish; fine, fine, gleaming pieces of work.
Finally, the ending does not disappoint.
Not So Good Stuff: Occasionally, Temple’s sparse prose means it’s easy to lose perspective. Who said that? But a swift reread of a sentence or two soon gets you on track. But, that is a massive measure of nitpicking. How big? Well, I like this book so much, it’s the third time I have read it.