TRUTH by Peter Temple is probably the most keenly anticipated novel in this house for many years. Let's get the verdict out of the way right up front so there's absolutely no doubt - it did not disappoint. Not in any way.
TRUTH has been "billed" as the follow up to the acclaimed THE BROKEN SHORE, but really that's not setting expectations for the book well - sure Joe Cashin makes a number of cameo appearances (by reference) as, for that matter, does Jack Irish, but TRUTH isn't a sequel in the strictest sense of the word. Perhaps it would be fairer to call it a companion to the earlier book, a parallel story.
Inspector Stephen Villani goes from his own BROKEN SHORE cameo to the central character in TRUTH, as the head of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad. A country boy / city cop he's a complex man, as complicated as Cashin, although his life has taken a different path. Perhaps it is this concept of a man who is the sum total of his childhood, his younger years, his decisions, his personal and professional lives, and the decisions (or events) along the way that push and pull and shove and ultimately shape personality that most interest Peter Temple. Villani is good at his job; hopeless at his personal life; struggling with his relationship with his father; they share a bond which is fractious at best, their forest of trees a bridge between the two men. A joint love, it seems to Villani, it's the only thing that they hold in common. Add that complexity to the environment in which TRUTH is set - Melbourne ringed by bushfires, hot, smokey, difficult, uncomfortable, threatened. More so for Villani, as his father and their property, their forest, is directly in the line of threat.
And then there's truth. The central core of this book is the peeling back of artifice, of pretence, of deception and doubt and the revealing of truth. The truth behind a young girls body in a luxury bathroom; the truth behind the tortured men hanging in a backyard in Oakleigh; the truth about colleagues, mentors and political masters; the truth behind Villani's marriage, his runaway tearaway teenage daughter; his relationship with his brothers; and his fractious, terse, uncomfortable relationship with a father who he doesn't understand, and he thinks, doesn't understand him. Truth is a subject that the reader has to conclude is very very close to Temple's heart as well.
TRUTH has been a book a long time in the making, but it's obvious that recent bushfires in Victoria have given the author cause for consideration. There are elements of that time, the damage and the devastation built into the narrative, giving the story a particular resonance, a place in history, for Victorians in particular. There are also some of the components that readers will have come to expect (demand?) from a book by the master of the understatement. Pared down language, an ear / eye for an authentic phrasing of the Australian accent that can drip irony, convey profound emotion or tell a lifetime's story in a few words, or a gesture. The emotion built into the relationship between Villani, his father, and their beloved forest and the fire - the nearly all consuming fire - described in the shortest possible chapter, was devastating, profoundly, and somewhat startlingly affecting.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting the emotional response that TRUTH engendered. Seems unfair to say it as I write this review. After all, you can predict the pared down, minimalist language, the depth of the storytelling, combined with the pared down realistic characterisations, but it's a profound joy to realise you can never predict everything that you're going to get from a Peter Temple book.
But the opening paragraph of this review isn't the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but - there is something disappointing about TRUTH. It eventually came to an ending - as good an ending as you could possibly want, but nonetheless an ending.