"The Broken Shore"
(Reviewed by Sudheer Apte MAY 29, 2007)
The Broken Shore, a novel by Peter Temple, has won two prizes in Australia since it was published two years ago. It is being reissued in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in June 2007. Peter Temple has written several award-winning crime novels before. His Jack Irish series of novels is also well known in Australia.
Readers are used to thinking about "literary fiction" as something exalted, separate from mere mystery stories. The Broken Shore is a remarkable book that goes far beyond its modest genre. Starting with a murder mystery plot that unfolds slowly and then deepens into a major scandal, the novel explores a wide variety of characters, both white and Aboriginal, and their relationships. And permeating the entire narrative is the ever-present coastline of southern Australia, of cold, jagged cliffs and violent seas. It may be a cliche to say that the place is itself a character in the novel, but it applies to The Broken Shore.
Temple's language, too, is full of local idiom and feels authentic. The advance reader's copy for the American edition contains a glossary in an appendix, which tells us, for example, that a "ute" is a sport-utility vehicle, and a "swaggie" is an itinerant tramp or vagabond.
The Broken Shore is in the same crime genre as the author's Jack Irish novels, but the protagonist here is a Victoria police detective named Joe Cashin, who has moved to the countryside where he grew up, on the southern coast of Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne.
A local businessman is murdered on his estate. The businessman, Charles Bourgoyne, turns out to have important connections, and since Detective Joe Cashin is the senior policeman in the area, he is asked to take charge of the investigation.
Joe Cashin is a middle-aged policeman, all alone with his two dogs. Recovering from injuries, both physical and emotional, he has returned to his late father's old, dilapidated house in the countryside, which he is trying to restore in a half-hearted way. As the days go by in Joe Cashin's life, we learn slowly about his parents and sibilings, and snippets about his son whom he is unable to meet.
The novel is full of laconic dialog. In this, The Broken Shore is superficially similar to genre hard-boiled crime fiction. However, Peter Temple's clipped sentences are different because they primarily explore the characters rather than move the story. Thus, the plot unfolds very slowly at first; every new plot element comes with four or five new characters, only a few of which are relevant to the narrative.
Along the way, the novel touches on several social themes: the shameful treatment of, and prejudice against, the Aboriginal people; poorly supervised orphanages; and the politics and economics of preserving the ecology of the wilderness.
Yet, these heavy themes don't overwhelm the book; once the main characters are properly introduced, Temple does develop the plot and deliver a fascinating story with a hefty body count. And because the characters are developed so well, the reader is drawn in and thrown about with them as bad things happen.
What the reader is left with is a sense of having traveled to a new place where the people speak differently and have their own daily concerns, and yet whose worries, hopes, and dreams are universal. These characters, like people anywhere, look for meaning in their relationships, even the swaggies. And this is what makes The Broken Shore a "literary thriller," and Peter Temple an author worth watching.
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Jack Irish series:
- Bad Debts (1996; November 2005 in US)
- Black Tide (1999; November 2005 in US)
- Dead Point (2000)
- White Dog (2003)
- An Iron Rose (1998)
- Shooting Star (1999)
- In the Evil Day (2002)
- Identity Theory (October 2004)
- The Broken Shore (2005; May 2007 in US)
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- January Magazine review of In the Evil Day & Peter Temple profile
- The Age review of The Broken Shore
- Maltida on The Broken Shore
- Entertainment Weekly review of The Broken Shore
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About the Author:
Peter Temple was born in South Africa. He moved to Sydney, Australia in 1980 as a journalist before moving to Melbourne to edit Australian Society magazine. He has also taught journalism, editing and media studies at a number of universities. Temple was the first senior lecturer in Editing and Publishing, playing an important role in establishing the prestigious Professional Writing and Editing course at Melbourne’s RMIT University.
In 1995, he became a self-employed editor and full-time writer. Temple has been the winner of four Ned Kelly Awards (Australia’s equivalent of the Edgars). This is more than any other writer. Bad Debts won Best First Crime Novel, 1996, the stand-alone novel Shooting Star won Best Crime Novel, 1999, Dead Point won Best Crime Novel, 2000 and White Dog won Best Crime Novel, 2003.
Peter Temple now lives in Ballarat, Victoria (Australia) with his family.