"Bad Debts "
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JAN 29, 2006)
"I never blamed myself for my wife's death. Not then or now. A client of mine, Wayne Waylon Milovich, shot and killed Isabel in a parking garage in La Trobe Street. When he'd done that he taped a letter addressed to me to her forehead and went back to his car, a 1974 Ford Falcon with one hundred and thirteen unpaid parking tickets against its number. He then detonated two or three sticks of gelignite on his lap. The letter went: 'MR. JUDAS LAWYER DID YOU NOW MY WIFE RUN AWAY AND TOOK MY KIDS WHILE I ROTTED IN JAIL WERE YOU SENT ME BECAUSE YOU WOOD NOT LISTEN TO WHAT I WAS TELLING YOU AS YOUR CLYNT YOU BASTARD.'"
I like Jack Irish. I like him a lot. Fortunately for me MacAdam/Cage now publishes author Peter Temple's noir novels, featuring Mr. Irish, in the US. By the way, he is not Irish at all, but the great-grandson of I. Reich, a German Jewish immigrant to Australia.
In a market chock-full of detective type anti-heroes, Jack stands above the pack as the only Renaissance sleuth. He's also a man from Melbourne who gives great Aussie slang! Literary points for that! Professionally his moniker reads "licensed criminal attorney," but he branches out into debt collecting and is not above doing his own investigative work either. A horse-racing man and habitual gambler, barfly, apprentice cabinetmaker and Australian Rules Football fanatic, Irish is just pulling himself off the rails, and a serious bout with self destruction involving alcohol, when the novel begins. His wife was murdered by a disgruntled former client and Jack is only now beginning to cope with the rage and guilt while sober.
As he surfaces, he discovers that Danny McKillop, supposedly a former client, has been leaving a series of desperate sounding messages on his answering machine. Jack needs to refresh his memory since the Danny McKillop part of his past is a blur. The files show him the man was convicted of a hit and run accident, while under the influence of considerable alcohol, which resulted in a young woman's death. There were witnesses and plenty of evidence, so Irish could not have done much on Danny's behalf...even if he had been sober with his act pulled together. Recently released after serving ten years in the penitentiary, McKillop apparently wants to speak with his old lawyer ASAP. When Irish starts returning the multiple phone calls, he is informed that Danny has been murdered, like yesterday - by a cop, no less, who claims self defense.
Jack is also tipped-off that Danny may have been innocent - that the woman's death, which he supposedly caused, might have benefited some politically powerful people. A few too many convenient murders later, (inconvenient, however, for Irish who is trying to shed some light on what appears to be a series of crimes, scams and cover-ups), Jack is warned off the case. It's those powerful people again. He is scared enough to seriously consider dropping it too. I told you he is a Renaissance sleuth, and not ashamed to be called a coward either. Seriously, there is wonderful dark humor throughout, but Temple's prose communicates a sense of evil menace quite effectively. It is not difficult to understand Jack Irish's fear given what fuels it.
Although plot driven, I am extremely drawn to the protagonist and his supporting cast. These characters, and Irish's interaction with them, give wonderful depth to the book. Jack works part time for Charlie Taub, a master cabinetmaker, and is dedicated to learning the craft despite the flack he frequently takes from his employer/teacher/mentor. It is obvious that the concentration required for the demanding carpentry work gives Irish some peace of mind and some breathing space as well.
Then there are the horse racing guys - or at least that's how I have labeled them. These men do not fool around with spending a day at the track. Their well-orchestrated machinations involve spotting horses who are long shots, outsiders, and setting them up to win, against the odds, for profit and pleasure. The wonderful Harry Strang, who gives a whole new meaning to "moneyed," is the man you want to see about a horse. Cam, who has "the Eye" knows more than most about thoroughbreds and when he is not advising Harry about the four-legged creatures, he is enforcing Stang's will upon the two-legged variety. The gang down at the local pub is also introduced here as is Drew, Jack's former partner, and Linda, a potential love interest.
Peter Temple has won four Ned Kelly Awards, (the Australian equivalent of the Edgars), for Crime Fiction, including one for Best First Novel with Bad Debts. Known in Australia primarily for his Jack Irish novels, Temple has a following which could very well expand to include a US audience now that Black Tide (book two) has also been released.
Looks like a winning series to me - certainly based on this well written, thoroughly enjoyable debut.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
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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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- Who Dunnit review of Bad Debts
- BookReporter review of Bad Debts
- Crime Fiction review of White Dog
- SMH.com.au review of White Dog
- MostlyFiction.com 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.