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Peter Temple's 'Truth' Is The Best Crime Novel I've Read Since...Peter Temple's Last Crime Novel

Looking for great fiction-writing? Friends, that is it: not a word wasted, every beat true, drama at the red line, a surprise that packs a wallop.
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Laurie doesn't see him, so Steve Villani is able to study his wife as she walks toward him.

Jeans, black leather jacket, thinner, different haircut, a more confident stride.

She spots him, comes over.

He hasn't planned it, but he can't help himself. "You're having an affair."

She says this isn't the place to talk. He won't let it go.

"F--k meeting with the boyfriend, is that it?"

"I'm not having an affair," she says. "I'm in love with someone, I'll move out today."

Looking for great fiction-writing? Friends, that is it: not a word wasted, every beat true, drama at the red line, a surprise that packs a wallop.

What more do you want? Whatever your fantasy about a book, Peter Temple probably satisfies it in Truth. [There's also a Kindle edition.] Peter Temple? Only one of the world's better novelists. But unknown to most American readers largely because he lives in Australia.

Temple is underappreciated here for another reason: His books are thrillers with violent crimes as the problem to be solved and cops as the characters who must solve. In our country, that's the province of genre specialists like Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson --- writers who favor simple plots, cardboard dialogue and lots of white space on the page. Temple, in comparison, is Dostoevsky.

The comparison is not casual. Temple's characters are complex, his plots complicated, his world smudged if not outright dirty --- that is, his books are entirely credible. In this one, a young prostitute is found murdered in a super-luxury high rise that boasts the ultimate in technology --- though on the night of the murder, none of it works. In Temple's books, high and low always meet. Not only might the murder be connected to the torture and execution of three thugs, but Steve Villani, chief of the Homicide squad in Melbourne, must deal with citizens of every caste.

He's having an affair, for instance, with a successful TV newscaster. He's invited to a party given by a gazillionaire, where he recognizes "a millionaire property owner, an actor whose career was dead, a famous footballer you could rent by the hour, two cocaine-addicted television personalities, a sallow man who owned racehorses and many jockeys." And, when it's time to be a tough cop, he can go there: "He fell sideways and Villani stopped him meeting the concrete, not with love, laid him to rest, put a shoe on his chest, rested his weight, moved it up to the windpipe and pressed, tapped, you did not want to mark the c--t."

If the plot has more layers than a Goldman Sachs bond deal, it's fun to try and figure out what's coming. (Good luck.) What's simple --- and simply delightful --- is Temple's dialogue, which verges on shorthand.

Here he is, giving a deputy his marching orders for the daily media update on the prostitute's murder:

"Take the media gig this afternoon?"
"Well, yes, certainly. Yes."
"Give them the waffle. Can't name Ribarics. On the torture, it's out there, so the line is horrific and so on. We're shocked. Scumbags' inhumanity to other filth. With me?"
"Urge people to come forward?"
"Mate, absolutely. In large numbers."

And here, in a scene so emotionally rewarding you'll want to give Villani a fist-pump, is the Homicide chief grilling a high government official who just happened to be the young prostitute's final client:

"Are we done?" said Koenig. "I'm a busy man."
"Not done, no, not at all," said Villani. "But we can conduct this interview in other circumstances."
"Is that, we can do this here or we can do it at the station? Jesus, what a cliché."
"That's what we deal in," said Villani.
"I'm a minister of the crown, you grasped that, detective?"
"I'm an inspector. From Homicide. Didn't I say that?"

Fun, but never charming. This is, after all, Homicide, "where animals hated you, dreamed of revenge, would kill your family." It's a job that eats you, "your family got the tooth-scarred bone." A job where crimes are sometimes solved by looking at footage taken by a security camera at night and noticing the reflection of a car's license plate on a window, and sometimes solved in nastier ways.

You want a mindless beach read? Skip this. You want to be bitch-slapped into full attention by a master? Come ahead.

[Cross-posted from]

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