Before his “breakthrough” novel, The Broken Shore (winner of the CWA gold dagger), and its sort-of sequel, Truth, Peter Temple wrote three stand-alone novels and a series of four books about ex-lawyer turned investigator Jack Irish. White Dog is the fourth of these Jack Irish stories, and the only book by Temple not yet to have been published in the UK (it is due to be published by Quercus this summer).
White Dog contains all the standard elements of a Peter Temple, and specifically a Jack Irish, novel. What first strikes the reader is the apparently effortless, poetic use of language: every sentence, every paragraph is infused with lean, masculine beauty. Near the start, Jack meets a client, a woman who welds sculptures out of metal:
I gave her my card and said goodbye, walked back the way I had come, around the downed knight in his pool of harsh light, around the steel scrapheap, between the execution and the crawling, panting pack of dog-humans. Finally, I passed by the witches preparing to cook a small creature and came to the sliding door and opened it to the dripping world beyond.
It’s all like that: metaphors and portents that never slow the pace. The client, Sarah Longmore, has been arrested for apparently killing her ex-boyfriend Mickey, a shady-seeming character who had recently taken up with Sarah’s sister Sophie, providing the older woman with a motive or two. Jack is hired by his ex-legal partner Drew, to help the defence. Jack carries out his task with his customary introspection and ambivalence, immersed in the wreck of his past life (dead wife, estranged daughter and sister), and in the constant “gentrification” of his beloved Melbourne. As usual, the old ways of life are constantly and tellingly observed as the yuppification continues and the old establishments and simpler illegal activities give way to more shallow, sophisticated enterprises. These observations are filtered through Jack’s alternative, parallel jobs as a cabinet maker, regular at the local pub and Saints footy supporter (lots of humour about that including a couple of dentist jokes), and a shady horse dealer. Jack’s conflicted state is partly due to his own history: his father was a communist stonemason and his mother an heiress, and that theme is to the fore in his first steps at unravelling the truth behind Mickey’s death.
After some time of not getting very far, a pivotal event happens which galvanises Jack and the plot – which is standard Peter Temple. Jack uses a network of convenient contacts to follow the trail of registered companies and deals, at the same time tracking down possible but vanished witnesses to Mickey’s mysterious business dealings. Everything is very complicated and one has to pay a lot of attention to the details, but at heart this novel is a straightforward tale of greed and corruption, par for the course with this author, but none the worse for it.
I loved reading this novel, though the reading of it is more compelling than the resolution of the plot, in which one feels the author got a bit bored as the ending is rather perfunctory and the villains interchangeable (though the various victims, mainly women, are not). This does not matter to me, as reading a Peter Temple book is always a lovely, emotional journey. I am only sorry that I shall probably have to wait a long time before reading another book by this excellent author – Truth, his most recent, was first published in 2009 but Temple is not an author who writes fast, to put it mildly.
About Peter Temple: Interview with Bob Cornwell (2010). This is probably the best article to read about Peter Temple and his books if you have not yet read him and want to find out more about why he’s in the pantheon. Australian Crime Fiction database: lists all the novels and links to reviews of all but the first; and an associated brief interview at Crime Down Under blog (2008). All things Peter Temple, a post at Bite the Book blog. Peter Temple at Fair Dinkum crime.