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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Truth, by Peter Temple ($16)(c2009)

This is the third Peter Temple book I've read. I gave the other two stars (for books I really, really like). This one doesn't get a star. I didn't even understand it half the time. And I'm not just talking about the Australianese.

The main character here is Stephen Villani, head of the homicide department somewhere in Australia, but it's really an ensemble piece, and that is part of the problem. There are millions of characters. One of them is Joe Cashin, hero of The Broken Shore, and another is Jack Irish, who stars in a bunch of books that haven't made it to the U.S. yet. But they play very tiny parts, cameos really. There are Bikerts, Dove, Finucane, Singleton (or Singo), Kiely, Lizzie, Webber, Gillam, Colby, Anna, Bob, Corin, Laurie, Luke, Mack, Orong, Barry, and those are just the police and family members. This doesn't even touch on the people involved in the two main cases of which Villani takes control. Either Temple assumes you've read his other books and his characters need no introduction, or it's a singularly annoying gimmick to just toss his readers into the muddle of people. Ha, ha, ha, he might be saying, sink or swim.

Even though I got the gist of the two cases -- a young woman is found naked and dead in the bathroom of an upscale condominium, and two gangsters are found tortured and dead -- it was a convoluted path through potential political and police malfeasance to solve them both. In his equally convoluted personal life, Stephen is having a rocky time with his wife, one of his daughters runs away, his farmer father refuses to leave his holding when a massive fire threatens it, and his reporter girlfriend is the the worst-kept secret around. Is it all worth the agita, both for him and for us?

Temple has a way with words, and it's still true in Truth. However, sometimes he seems to shake them up in a bucket, pluck a few out and throw them away for the challenge, and then plop what's left on the page. He was clearest and most moving when telling about Stephen's family, especially in stories of his father's stubbornness in the midst of his plight and his guilt over his daughter Lizzie.

I wish I had time to re-read this book. Having come through it once, I now know who (most of) the characters are. I do so want to enjoy it.

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