The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
First UK publication by Quercus in 2006, issued by them in paperback in 2007 and re-issued in 2009.
Cashin walked around the water tanker. It had been crudely sprayed black with aerosol paint. But before that rust had set in where markings had been erased, probably with a steel brush on a grinder. The rust was bubbling the new paint. ‘Where’d you get this?’ he said. Bern flicked his cigarette end. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘you go in the McDonald’s drive-in, you ask the kid where’d you get the mince?’
I am a latecomer to Peter Temple, but The Broken Shore was certainly worth the wait. Born in South Africa in 1946, Peter Temple moved to Australia in 1980. He has worked extensively as a journalist and editor, for newspapers and magazines in several countries. He has also taught journalism, editing and media studies at a number of universities. His Jack Irish novels (Bad Debts, Black Tide, Dead Point, and White Dog) are set in Melbourne, Australia and feature an unusual lawyer-gambler protagonist. He has also written a number of stand-alone novels as well as The Broken Shore and its semi-sequel Truth. He has won five Ned Kelly Awards for crime fiction, the most recent in 2006 for The Broken Shore, which also won the Colin Roderick Award for best Australian book and the Australian Book Publishers’ Award for best general fiction. The Broken Shore also won the Crime Writers’ Association Duncan Lawrie Dagger in 2007. Temple is the first Australian to win a Gold Dagger.
Recovering from serious injuries, both physical and emotional, sustained in the pursuit of a criminal, detective Joe Cashin, the protagonist of The Broken Shore, has been posted to the countryside where he grew up, on the southern coast of Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne. An elderly, but once important, businessman is beaten up and left close to death on his estate. Two young Aborigines are traced trying to sell an expensive watch that sounds as though it is the one worn by Charles Bourgoyne, the now deceased businessman. To everyone except Cashin the case is shut almost before it has opened, but to Cashin there are too many unanswered questions and he doggedly continues to seek the truth. Through his investigation Cashin uncovers a web of deceit as he moves ever closer to uncovering the facts.
The novel has a depth and breadth that makes it a hugely enjoyable read, not simply as an excellent example of the crime genre (and it is certainly that), but also because, through the wealth of incidental detail, the development of the characters and the setting of them in what feels to be a real place, Temple is able to touch on several important themes: racial prejudice, police corruption and ecological vandalism being three. Temple writes with a sure touch and his characters come off the page as ‘real’ people each with a history and a body of felt experience. Characters such as Rebb, the itinerant swaggie whom Cashin befriends, are developed by Temple into something more than cameos; they have an essence, a reality that is rare to find in a crime novel. I am reminded of the Lew Archer novels of Ross McDonald where again you find a similar development of characters in depth and a prose style to match.