When I was in Australia a few years ago, a fellow librarian and good friend recommended Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore to me. I got a copy, read it there, and was blown away by just how good it was. At the time, though, it wasn’t published in the U.S. Now, however, it’s available here, and now, after a second reading, I can assure any reader on the hunt for a powerful and complex crime novel with a social conscience that this is a book that shouldn’t be missed. After being brutally assaulted in a Melbourne stake-out that went horribly wrong, homicide detective Joe Cashin is reassigned, for a period of recuperation, to the sleepy, relatively crime free, ocean-side town of Port Monro, where he spends his time mostly brooding on the past, drinking to deal with the residue of the physical and emotional pain from the attack, and going for long walks with his two large black poodles. But when Charles Burgoyne, a Port Monro entrepreneur, is discovered in his ransacked house on the verge of death, Cashin finds himself back at work. Suspicion falls on two aboriginal boys who live in the nearby ghetto known as The Daunt. But are they guilty? To find the truth, Cashin has to deal with the seemingly endemic racial prejudice against the Aboriginals, corrupt and inept colleagues, and the residue of his own past. The American writers Temple most resembles are Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, and George Pelecanos – all of them look squarely at the depths of depravity that humans are capable of (and write like fallen angels). But the fiction writer whom Temple most reminded me of is his fellow Aussie, Tim Winton, perhaps because they both have a powerful talent for evoking the setting and soul of Australia. Here’s Temple describing the small, rundown town of Port Monro, where Joe himself spent part of his childhood: “But the year had turned. May had come, the ice-water rain, the winds that scoured skin, and just the hardcore left-the unemployed, pensioners, people on all kinds of welfare, the halt, the lame. Now he saw the town as you saw a place after fire, all softness gone: the out-crops of rock, the dark gullies, the fireproof rubbish of brown beer bottles and car skeletons.” (It’s also interesting for American readers to note that several years after this book was published, the Australian government, under the leadership of newly elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd, formally apologized to all the indigenous peoples of the country for past wrongs. Joe Cashin would have approved.)
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