I'm not going to pretend that today's been a day like any other. When the news of the death of the master of Australian Crime Fiction Peter Temple reached us yesterday, courtesy of a fellow august Australian writer it was a blow. It wasn't totally unexpected sure, there'd been rumours, but it was still one of those moments where a glass of whiskey and a short contemplation was required.
And then the news broke more widely and everybody started sharing the news, their shock, distress and their remembrances. Today, as I've fielded queries and responses on behalf of the Australian Crime Writers Association there's been moments to contemplate.
Sitting on my shelves, in its protective cover is my copy of The Broken Shore, with an inscription in it obtained one warm day at the Melbourne Writers Festival, back when it was still at the Malthouse and felt like a community gathering. Peter was kind enough to sign the book for me, and make kind comments about this website - something he did with many bloggers, reviewers, bookseller and readers he encountered.
He often made a point of thanking us, as if we'd done something, when really our thanks were owing to him for those wonderful books that reflected our world, style, language and the way we thought. I remember at the time that The Broken Shore being released somebody from the US said they didn't quite get the buzz because "there's been plenty of books that cover the same territory". Ah but I rejoined, not about our backyards, not in our voices, not in settings that are familiar to us, populated by people just like us, who think like us.
From Jack Irish, to Joe Cashin and Steve Villani. From the streets of Melbourne, the cabinet makers in small inner city workshops, the footballers in Country regions, the high-rise towers, and the windswept paddocks, Peter Temple knew us. He heard us, understood the way we think, and reflected us in a way that was surprising and immensely gratifying. He wasn't, after all, native born, but that was part of the strength of what he did. He was an observer, a watcher, a listener and an analyser.
I remember seeing him one day in the institution that is Wilson's Fruit & Veg in Ballarat, I watched as he wandered around the shelves - doing the day to day shopping just like the rest of us. And realised, he was never not watching, never not tuned into the conversations around him, never not interested. There's something in the way that a writer like Peter Temple tunes in that became obvious on that day and other times I saw him out and about in the town of my birth, that had become his home.
He was and will always be one of the great chroniclers of Australian sensibility. His writing could never just be called "genre". It was pitch perfect, it was clever, funny, moving and absolutely spot on. At a festival once the interviewer put forward the suggestion that Peter Temple self-edited his work. He explained his journalistic background compelled him to seek clarity. His perfectionism compelled him even harder to ensure originality. If one of Peter Temple's characters walked into a room in a book, then you could be guaranteed he wouldn't do that again, that idea of the same method or idea twice was unacceptable to him.
We were so very fortunate that Peter Temple arrived on our shores, and took to writing our stories and as much as we mourn the idea that there will be no more, we are so very lucky to have the books that we do.
Joe Cashin was different once. He moved easily then; was surer and less thoughtful. But there are consequences when you've come so close to dying. For Cashin, they included a posting away from the world of Homicide to the quiet place on the coast where he grew up. Now all he has to do is play the country cop and walk the dogs. And sometimes think about how he was before.
Then prominent local Charles Bourgoyne is bashed and left for dead. Everything seems to point to three boys from the nearby Aboriginal community; everyone seems to want it to. But Cashin is unconvinced.
And as tragedy unfolds relentlessly into tragedy, he finds himself holding onto something that might be better let go. Peter Temple's gift for compelling plots and evocative, compassionately drawn characters has earnt him a reputation as the grand master of Australian crime writing.
The Broken Shore is Temple's finest book yet; a novel about a place, about family, about politics and power, and the need to live decently in a world where so much is rotten. It is a work as moving as it is gripping, and one that defies the boundaries of genre.