Monday, April 12, 2010

Review of Truth by Peter Temple (2009, Quercus)

A young girl is found dead in a glass bath in an empty apartment, thirty storeys up in a brand new, exclusive property development. The building’s management company claim there’s no security footage, despite boasting that it’s the most secure complex in the city, using the latest Israeli systems. Inspector Stephen Villani, head of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad, knows he’s been given the brush-off, and he’s determined to get to the truth. Only the truth is an intangible and slippery concept, especially when everyone Villani encounters is on the make in one way or another or has a dark secret to hide, including his colleagues and himself. Then more bodies start to turn up and Villani finds himself swimming in very murky waters infested with powerful politicians, influential businessmen, and senior police officers bent on using him for their own gain, all offering rewards for looking the other way. And to top it off, his wife is away, his youngest daughter is roaming the streets in a drug-addled state, his brother is mixed up with a biker gang, and his father is refusing to leave his landholding despite a huge forest fire heading his way. Unsure who to trust, doubting himself, and trying to keep his own secrets hidden, Villani seeks justice, if not the truth.

It took me a little while to get hooked into Truth. The story had a change in style from Temple’s previous novels somewhat similar to the transformation in James Ellroy’s work – the prose becoming starker, terser and sparser, yet still retaining its lyrical prose. For much of the first half of the book, the story is a succession of fragments, the reader dropped into scenes that lack backstory and context; it’s a bit like hearing a sequence of partial conversations between guarded protagonists and trying to piece them together into a full narrative to try and understand what is going on. The result is that the reader is not really sure what is happening or why. Slowly things start to take shape and the multi-layered plot twists to a resolution. While the characterisation is good, and the dialogue realistic, the strength of the novel is that it provides plenty of food for thought with respect to its central premise – that nobody can be trusted, even family and friends; that everybody is on the make in some fashion; and every action has to be evaluated for possible consequences and costs. To that end, Truth, for me at least, is a novel that has more weight and substance a few days after reading, as its deeper meanings surface on reflection. Overall, an enjoyable novel that lingers after reading, but not quite in the same league as Temple’s Jack Irish novels, which are first class.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. I've read several very positive reviews of Truth, and it's definitely on my TBR list; I look forward to reading it...