14 September 2009

Southern (hemisphere) fiction

Okay, I swore off Swedish mysteries for the winter. Next June, when there's more sunlight, will be soon enough to try another one.

I was scanning the stacks at the Northfield Library and came across an Australian mystery that looked promising. I do mean "looked promising." The cover of The Broken Shore features a dramatic Regis Martin photo of some limestone seaside cliffs. They might closely resemble the broken shore referenced by Peter Temple [left] in this mystery.

This was a book I wanted to finish once I started. It wasn't quite one I didn't want to put down, but the story was compelling. Once I finished, on a very quiet Saturday morning at Sidetrack, I thought, "But... but... but..." There were things unfinished. Is that an invitation to the next book or what?

That invitation fits well with the frequent references to at least one earlier story. Those references to detective Joe Cashin's past, did make things confusing early on, but there was a bit of explanation (insufficient, as far as I was concerned) in the middle of the book. Is that an invitation to the previous book or what?

As the plot progressed, the main character's past became less important, while other characters' pasts became more important.

I had to adjust my reading style early on in this book. Temple has a way of dropping significant plot bits into throw away descriptive sentences. Normally, I skim over those sentences and look conversations and actions. So, I had to re-read some things and then pay attention to every sentence in the final half of the book.

There were also a few more characters than I could keep track of in the first two-thirds of the book. There's a glossary of Australian terms at the end of the book, but it could have used a list of characters in the beginning (like those old Russian novels). However, as I think about that, I suspect that such a cast list would have made the plot too transparent. Temple was right not to add it. I should have paid more attention in the beginning. Just like I should have noticed the details he stuck into seemingly trivial sentences.

In the first part of the book, I felt like I was reading about the visiting detective Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night. The racism, the redneck cops, and the Aborigine detective brought in to "help investigate" a murder that might involve some native kids. The story got more complex later in the book, but those cultural dynamics played a part in the plot. The complexity means that Temple was writing about more than simplistic stereotypes — mostly.

I will return to the library and look for another Peter Temple mystery — probably an earlier one that will explain Joe Cashin's mental and physical scars that Temple refers to often in The Broken Shore.

Have your read anything by Peter Temple? Did you like it?

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