Temple, Peter (Text publishing: Australia, 2009, ISBN 9781921520716)
Peter Temple’s Truth reads like an Australian television miniseries. You can even see where they would show the tits.
The novel’s beauty comes from the vividness of its writing. We leave it with afterimages of “sharp-toothed skulls” and “beer cartons blown flat against the fences” still glowing behind our mind’s I. We can still hear the footsteps on the “gap-planked verandah” and the “rip and flap of a loose truck tarp in the nearest yard”.
The plot that it adorns follows well-worn lines. Police detectives with personal problems swear their way through an unfolding series of homicides.
As he searches for truth behind the city’s mean streets and the life he lives on them, Temple’s protagonist guides us through a bloodier, grimier congener of the Melbourne we know.
“The day would come, sniffling would pay off.
Empty pizza boxes stacked beside a bin, plastic plates in a drying rack, empty sink, two scourers. He crossed the room. A dim passage with a bare parquet floor led to the front door, two doors to the left, three to the right.
He looked into the first left-hand room. A bedroom, single bed. Prim like the kitchen, bed unmade, two pairs of nners lined up under it, clothes folded on a chair, a comb stuck in a clean hairbrush, like a porcupine with a fin.
Next, another bedroom, king-sized bed, not made, cheap Chinese cotton clothes peeled from a body, dropped to the floor, layers of clothes. He sniffed cigarettes, dope, alcohol breath, sweaty runners.”
“On the main road, Villani switched on the radio.
…firefighters arrive from West Australia today to support the weary teams battling to save three towns now under threat in the high country…“
“Villani looked at the overgrazed, barren, pitted sheep paddocks. ‘Why?’ he said.
‘A forest,’ Bob said. ‘Going to have our own forest.’
‘Right,’ said Villani. ‘A forest.’
That winter they dug the first holes, at least a thousand, left paths, clearings, Bob appeared to have a master plan in his head, never disclosed. They dug in icy winds and freezing rain, numb black hands, your cold skin tore, you only found out you had bled when you washed off the dirt. Towards spring that year and the next two, Saturdays and Sundays, eight hours a day, they created the forest. They planted the oak seedlings and the bought eucalypt seedlings through squares of old carpet underfelt, protected them with house-wrap cut from fifty-meter rolls. Bob got these things somewhere, perhaps fallen off the back of some other driver’s truck, like the plastic pots.”
“Bob wiped a beer tidemark from his upper lip. ‘Well, you know. People.'”
“And trees, he knew a fair bit about trees. For a start, he knew the botanical names of about fifty oaks.
‘What play?’ he said.
‘The Tempest. Shakespeare.’
‘Never heard of it.’
He put his head back and after a while he said, ‘The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, which it inherit, shall dissolve…’
Fingertips dug into his upper arm.
‘And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind,’ Villani said.”
“Three levels of security, panic buttons, so many barriers, so insulated. And still the fear. He saw the girl’s skin, grey of the earliest dawn, he saw the shallow bowl between her hipbones and her pubic hair holding droplets like a desert plant.”
“‘Never worked out why these people have to take their own caterer. Don’t they cook in Cairns? Just raw fruit?’
‘You should spend more time together,’ said Corin.
Villani pretended to punch her arm. ‘Finish law first,’ he said. ‘The the grad-dip in marriage counselling.’
He ate his toasted sandwiches in front of the television, reading the Age. Corin lay on the sofa, files on the floor, taking notes. With the plate on his lap, he fell asleep, waking startled when she took it from hi hands.
‘Bed, Dad.’ she said. ‘You’ve got to get more sleep. Sleep and proper food and exercise.’
‘The holy trinity,’ said Villani. ‘Goodnight, my darling.'”
“The lift came, they fell thirty floors. On the sixth, at a desk, three dark suits, two men and a woman, waited. The plump fiftyish man came forward, pushing back limp hair.”
“Villani got the Victa out of the garage, fuelled it, pushed it around to the front. He opened the throttle and tried to pull the cord. It wouldn’t move. He upended the machine, tried to move the blade, brushed his knuckles, quick blood. He went to the woodpile, chose a length, came back and hit the blade, the third blow shifted it.
‘First resort,’ said his father. ‘Brute force.'”
“‘Lots of little buggers in there now,’ said Bob one day. ‘Echidnas, bandis, God knows where they come from.”
“Saturday night. Once high point of the week. He showered, found crumpled shorts, opened a beer, went shirtless into the hot night. He took a piss on the former vegetable strip along the fence, dead hard-baked soil, heard voices, laughter from two sides. A splash, splashes. How had he missed a pool going in next door?”
“In his office, Gavan Keily gone to Auckland, Villani switched on the big monitor, muted, waited for the 6.30pm news, unmuted.
A burning world-scarlet hills, grey-white funeral plumes, trees exploding, blackened vehicle carapaces, paddocks of charcoal, flames slucing down a gentle slope of brown grass, the helicopters’ water trunks hanging in the air.”
“All CCTV tapes from 3pm yesterday, all lifts, parking,’ said Villani. ‘Also duty rosters, plus every single recorded coming and going, cars, people, deliveries, tradies, whatever.
Ulyatt whistled. ‘Tall order,’ he said. ‘We’ll need a lot more time.’
‘Got that down?’ said Villani to Sylvia Allegro.”
“Villani thought about the dead he had seen. He remembered them all. Bodies in Housing Commission flats, in low brown brick-veneer units, in puked alleys, stained driveways, car boots, the dead stuffed into culverts, drains, sunk in dams, rivers, creeks, canals, buried under houses, thrown down mineshafts, entombed in walls, embalmed in concrete, people shot, stabbed, strangled, brained, crushed, poisoned, drowned, electrocuted, asphyxiated, starved, skewered, hacked, pushed from buildings, tossed from bridges.”
“‘Okay,’ Villani said. ‘Dead woman, no clothes, no ID, no idea how she got there, no vision, so we have dogshit.’
‘Encapsulated it, boss,’ said Dove, the smile-smirk.”