The verdict is in on Peter Temple's "Bad Debts" ...
Bad Debts, the first of Temple's books about Jack Irish, exemplifies a special characteristic of the detective novel, of which one historian of the genre wrote that it "uniquely ... grew out of the character, rather than vice versa." Break down the plot of Bad Debts into its elements, and there's probably nothing you haven't seen before: sleazy land deals, corruption in high places, sexual misdeeds. A protagonist who lost his wife and sank into drink. A consoling sexual relationship. Lots of wisecracks. Bad Debts even brings back that older standby of crime novels and movies: a horse race and clever manipulation of the betting odds thereof.
Put them all together, however, and the controlling personality of the narrator/protagonist, with his low-key wisecracks and level-headed perspective, makes this something quite new in tone. Yes, Jack Irish has lost his wife to a violent killer. Yes, he came close to personal and professional ruin because of it. But no, he does not sink into self-pity. More to the point, he is capable of clear-eyed self-analysis that no self-dramatizing American, self-pitying Scottish or self-conscious Swedish detective-novel protagonist would be able to manage.
I had two plot quibbles: Temple's introduction to a female news reporter who plays a prominent role is slightly stale and familiar, and one obvious clue hits the reader long before it hits Irish. But that latter may be an aspect of Irish rather than a plot flaw. The man is refreshingly flawed, even refreshingly weak and pliable, in some ways, a rather more human private investigator than so many of the moral supermen and Christ figures who have walked down Raymond Chandler's mean streets.
Australian crime fiction
© Peter Rozovsky 2006