Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore (2005)
Random House, 2008

Sometime in early May I picked up a copy of Peter Temple’s Truth at the library; it was on my hold shelf with a few other books. <cough> (It doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this story that you know how many, only that I was able to recognize my reasons for having asked for each of the others. Not that I would be ashamed by the quantity of books that I often have waiting for me on hold. No, definitely not.)

But I could not remember why I had asked for Truth; I studied the cover, read the blurb, checked the piece of paper that marked it to make sure it was, in fact, my number on it, and brought it home. It turns out that it had been the only title that had been nominated for the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award that our public library system had available, so I had put the shortlist out of my mind and didn’t even recognize Peter Temple’s name by the time it arrived for me.

Which is why I also didn’t realize that Truth followed The Broken Shore, so by the time I had a closer look at Truth, I had to put in another request for The Broken Shore, because of course I am compulsive about reading books in their “proper order”. And, by that time, many more people would have taken note of Peter Temple’s name, because Truth won the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.

So I read The Broken Shore in just a few days because suddenly there was a queue of eager readers behind me for an Australian mystery from 2005. Here’s what the Miles Franklin site says about this year’s winner: “Temple’s winning novel is the much anticipated sequel to The Broken Shore and comprehends murder, corruption, family, friends, honour, honesty, deceit, love, betrayal – and truth. A stunning story about contemporary Australian life, Truth is written with great moral sophistication.”

The same themes are present in The Broken Shore, although the main character of Truth plays a relatively minor role in The Broken Shore, but perhaps the theme of restoration is more prominent. Joe Cashin is trying to get his feet back underneath him, having had some devastating experiences in his work as a policeman. In some ways, the world around him has become foreign and unfamiliar and, in other ways, the events he sees playing out around him are all too recognizable and damaging.

Even the title is rooted in death: “It was called the Broken Shore, that piece of the coast.”

They went to see it for the first time when he was six or seven, everyone had to see the Kettle and the Dangar Steps. Even standing well back from the crumbling edge of the keyhole, the scene scared him, the huge sea, the grey-green water skeined with foam, sliding, falling, surging, full of little peaks and breaks, hollows and rolls, the sense of unimaginable power beneath the surface, terrible forces that could lift you up and suck you down and spin you and you would breathe in icy salt water, swallow it, choke, the power of the surge would push you through the gap in the cliff and then it would slam you against the pocked walls in the Kettle, slam you and slam you until your clothes were threads and you were just tenderised meat.

Readers who choose their mysteries for pacing and plot primarily would likely be frustrated by the time that Temple affords character development and setting, but those are two elements of the novel that contributed most significantly to my enjoyment of it.

Temple’s prose is imbued with his thematic concerns. “Weakness, smoking. Life was weakness, strength was the exception. Their smoke hung in sheets, golden where it caught the sun.” Very little is actually said about what Cashin has endured, but he is preoccupied by the possibility of restoring a semblance of what his life was once like, by the ways in which his strength has been compromised, by his need to define strength differently now.

The language in The Broken Shore is not fancy, but it is evocative: “At the last crossroads, two ravens pecking at vermilion sludge turned on him the judgemental eyes of old men in a beaten pub.”

This is evident here as well (see, I’m not just randomly including the single passage about a library, I’m eyeing his simile):

“The street was quiet, sunlight on the pale stone of the library. It had been the Mechanics’ Institute when it opened in the year carved above the door: 1864. Three elderly women were going up the steps, in single file, left hands on the metal balustrade. He could see their delicate ankles. Old people were like racehorses — too much depending on too little, the bloodline the critical factor.”

I had to return Truth before I got around to reading it, but I would definitely read another of Peter Temple’s mysteries; it was unexpectedly satisfying. If you’re still not sure whether you’re keen to try his work yourself, this interview might help you decide.