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Book review: <i>The Broken Shore</i> by Peter Temple

the cover of the book

In the starkness and wild of the Victorian coastal countryside, a seemingly straightforward murder is committed. Detective Joe Cashin, who is in recovery from a mentally and physically scarring encounter on the job, pushes through the veneer of simplicity, and is plunged into a dark, complex crime...

The story

Detective Joe Cashin works in small town country Victoria after a terrible, physically and mentally encounter with a criminal. He and his partner are called to the scene of what looks like a fairly straight forward robbery and murder.

Three young Aboriginal boys are accused of the crime, but the situation has the town racially divided and the brass in Melbourne are keeping a close eye on the handling of the situation. Cashin, who has close ties with the accused, finds himself working with an Aboriginal liasion officer, trying to bring the boys in the best way possible. However, the chain of command goes over his head, and the three boys wind up dead while he and the liasion officer loose contact and are left behind in the pursuit.

While the attitude of most is good riddance, Cashin sees that there may be something more to it. His investigation makes it clear that there is a cover up, and it's up to him to find out how far it goes and exactly why it happened.

The style

Peter Temple writes with a sparse, laconic style that suits both the sparsity and wildness of the Victorian scenery and the depth and force of the characters and the plot. Cashin is a strong lead, full of angst (but not in an annoying way), who's opinions on the political and racial divisions in the town are quiet but forceful. The supporting characters are incredibly well written also, although the male characters are better written than the female characters.

The plotline is fairly standard - there are really only so many plots within the Crime fiction genre - but the writing style elevates The Broken Shore significantly.

Temple really manages to express Australia - the small town atmosphere when a crime rips through it and divides the town with racial tension is really well done. I find the continued use of the word "Boong" quite confronting, but it's use added to the authenticity of the story. Furthermore, Temple displayed one of the hallmarks of a great writer by tackling a political theme and not ramming any particular side of the story down the reader's throat. While I make this point often in reviews, the moral representation of a difficult political issue can make or break the book, and in this case, the writing was brilliant. Cashin is quiet about his politics even with the reader, but he is one of the only characters who is willing to concede that maybe the crime isn't a black "thing". Of course, the solution to the crime vindicates Cashin, but the reader is led gently to Temple's conclusions about race and crime within small country towns.

Basically, the entire novel is a bit stark and dark feeling, but it's a really good read anyway.

Who is this book for?

Someone who is looking for some classy, literary crime. And also, if you're sick of reading American crime, or even British crime, and want to read something a bit closer to home (obviously I'm thinking of the Aussies at this point!) this is a great read. And if you aren't Australian, this is a pretty authentic cultural introduction.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Probably the starker, more British novels. Maybe a bit of Iain Banks.

In short

Title: The Broken Shore
Author: Peter Temple
Publisher: Text Publishing
Year published: 2005
Pages: 343
Genre(s): Crime fiction
Review Type: 


Closer to home and far better than US, British or Temple's writing, try Kel Robertson's two Detective Chen novels: Dead Set, and Smoke and Mirrors. A while since the last one released, don't know if there are more to come. If Temple can get published and praised (and awarded) for lesser works you'd think that Robertson should have more books published than the two so far. If not, cherish the two that exist, because they don't get any better.