Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Broken Shore

I have long believed that quality crime fiction, the kind built around a sense of place and well developed characters, can give the armchair traveler a better feel for a country and its culture than all but the best written travel books.  Books like Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore always remind me how true that is.

Big city Australian cop Joe Cashin has been exiled to the little police station responsible for the security of the small South Australian coastal town he grew up in – not that the citizens there have much crime to worry about.  He has ostensibly been sent to the area to recover from a serious physical injury, but Cashin is the kind of cop whose superiors sometimes need a break from him, and no one seems in a hurry to call him back.  Perhaps that is because he is not much into political correctness or going out of his way to make his fellow policemen look good when they do not deserve it.

When local millionaire Charles Bourgoyne is discovered in his mansion with his head bashed in, Cashin soon finds himself at odds with others in the department who are determined to pin the crime on a group of aboriginal teens caught trying to sell the man’s watch.  After the case is officially closed, Cashin, ever the introspective loner, decides to investigate the crime on his own.  His investigation, made more difficult by the town’s instinctive racism toward its aboriginal population, will lead him deep into a part of the community’s past tainted by child pornography and sexual abuse. 

Joe Cashin is not a perfect cop.  In fact, he sometimes tends to make the kind of careless or lazy mistake that can place him, his fellow cops, or the success of an investigation in danger.  The older he gets, the more Cashin questions what he has done with his life.  He is close to no one, including his mother and only brother, but despite not being happy about the situation, he does little to remedy it.  But the man has a good heart, and a very big one, at that.  He is a staunch defender of the underdog and he believes in second chances, two qualities that mark him as a misfit among his fellow policemen.

The Broken Shore is filled with memorable little moments, unforgettable characters, and complicated personal relationships.  It is about much more than the murder of one old man with a past of his own to protect.  Peter Temple uses dialogue to develop his characters much in the way that Elmore Leonard has become so celebrated for doing.  It works well for Temple, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting into the revealing conversational rhythms of his characters.  Readers will be well advised, however, to familiarize themselves with the Australian slang terms in the book’s glossary before beginning the novel (a fun, standalone read, that is) in order to keep the conversation flowing at the pace at which it is meant to be read.

This, my first Peter Temple novel, is actually the author’s ninth, and I look forward to reading the others.

Rated at: 4.0

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