Ben Winch's Reviews > Truth

Truth by Peter Temple
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May 30, 12

bookshelves: anglo, australian, pulp

Perplexing. Good, in many ways. Gripping. But 2 things bother me: the quality of the prose and the likeness of the setting. The prose? It's clumsy, all jagged edges and starkness, broken rules of grammar several-to-a-page masquerading as modernity. Unnecessary in such a straight-up crime novel, and it makes you wonder if the guy knows what he's doing or is just winging it. But worse than that, this is Melbourne?! This hotbed of crime, a place so dangerous that at one point the tough-guy protagonist remembers 'when the CBD (central business district) was still safe enough to walk across on a Friday night'?!! Safe enough for whom? Me, I've walked across it 100 times at all hours of the night and never felt remotely frightened, and I ain't half as tough as Inspector Villani. And then at one point there's some politician talking about the place as though it's second only to Detroit or Caracas or Johannesburg in the crime-statistics stakes. I mean, get a grip! Is Temple serious? Either (a) he's so introverted and naive that he honestly believes it, or (b) he's scamming, fictionalising the place beyond all recognition so as to create a decent setting for a crime story. And fair enough - but then it wins the Miles Franklin Award?! I mean, don't get me wrong: it's high time a 'genre' novel won that award - I applaud that. But my strong suspicion is that the judges believe this stuff! And that is disturbing. OK, we all love to romanticise; it makes our suburban middle-class lives that much more interesting if we can believe we live perpetually on the fringes of anarchy. But the only things 'culturally relevant' (favourite phrase of Australian awards-judges and grants boards) here are the bushfires and the al fresco dining. The rest is straight-up wanton exaggeration, and anyone who says differently is ill-informed.

That said, if you pair this with that other great romantic-noir view of Melbourne, the film Animal Kingdom, you get a pretty compelling cartoon neo-Gotham. All those skyscrapers are sure ugly-pretty, and ever since I was a kid driving overnight to Melbourne from Adelaide with my dad I would see the place as a kind of southern Chicago. It's got the look. But looks aren't everything.

A bunch of hooey, but entertaining for all that. Wish he was a better scene-painter: it's one thing to mention street-names or a cloud of smoke on the horizon; it's another to describe them. Still, as contemporary crime novels go this was a good one.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Catherine Sweeney try underbelly. of course Melbourne is like this. every city is like this but noir'd up...

message 2: by Ben (last edited Mar 06, 2015 10:05PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Hi Catherine, nice to meet you. Maybe try The Wire instead? There were 233 homicides in Baltimore in 2013. That's 35 homicides per 100,000 people.

Other homicide rates:

122 per 100,000 people in 2009

54 per 100,000 people in 2011

3.1 per 100,000 people in 2010

As to Melbourne's rate of violent assaults, yes it's high, but I'd say there's a kernal of truth in this (from the Sydney Morning Herald, 2010):

Different cities record statistics differently - for example, San Diego and Seattle record aggravated assaults but not a total number of assaults. They also record rape but not a total number of sexual assaults. As Dr Warren says: ''There is always going to be some glitch in the comparability - based on different legal definitions of crime in different jurisdictions. We have this to some extent in Australia anyway, given the different laws between states, but it is more pronounced when doing global comparisons.''

In its 2008 report Trends in Violent Crime, the Australian Institute of Criminology noted that ''homicide is often used as a gauge of the level of violence in society'' - because there is no gap between crimes reported to police and what's talked about in victimisation surveys. The victims can be counted at the morgue.

In this case the homicide rates speak pretty loudly, I think.

Which isn't to say I don't think there's a lot of drunken aggro on the streets of various Australian cities at night, but at least people feel safe enough to be out on the streets after dark. I remember staying in a motel in central Los Angeles in the nineties and the staff strongly advised us not to walk the streets at all after dark. As to Detroit, when I visited in 2000 there were entire streets of boarded-up or smashed windows, burned-out shells of houses, poverty on a scale rarely if ever seen in urban Australia, so no, I don't think all cities are "like this". And I haven't even touched on Central America, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa - places I haven't seen but which I presume are different again.

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