Reading a Temple novel is like watching a classic movie; all the elements are there - plot, finely developed characters, an intimate sense of place, and a profound understanding of the human condition. On the Australian coast in Port Monro, the locals are tough, weather-beaten and adaptive, happy to see the summer tourists retreat with the onslaught of harsher, colder weather.
Business goes on as usual, petty crime attended to by local detective Joe Cashin. Then a well-known philanthropist, Charles Bourgoyne, is found beaten and unconscious, prompting an outcry against such violence and a public demand that something be done. Lower-class crimes are one thing, tolerable even, but an intrusion into tonier society is not acceptable. Dealing with the odd incident, Cashin is called from his regular duties to add his input to the investigation of Bourgoyne’s attack.
Cashin still bears the wounds - and pain - inflicted by Rai Sarris, an old nemesis, the discomfort a steady reminder of that conflict. Comfortable away from the city and back on his home turf, Joe resists being drawn into the politics that surround the old man’s murder and the easy scapegoats: three young aborigine men from the slums, their dark skin labeling them suspect, desperation labeling them guilty.
Before Cashin can interview the boys, who are linked to the crime by the possession of a watch, there is a chase and a shooting, leaving only one alive. Before long, even that boy is lost, an apparent suicide. Cashin is aware of the Cromarty Police Department’s resistance to pursuing the case further, even though there are indications of large-scale corruption and political machinations.
The message is clear: don’t take this case too far, or suffer the consequences. Still, something does not fit with the scene of Bourgoyne’s attack. Cashin digs beneath the surface, stimulated by the prodding of the third boy’s advocate, Helen Castleman.
Of course, Cashin will get to the bottom of this case, revealing police corruption, political agendas and an ugly racism that blights society in the name of charity, shootouts and random violence set against a dramatic background, this proud and terrible land as exacting as it is immutable.
Temple captures the vast beauty of Australia and its extremes, eccentric personalities that frequently clash, a region defined by poverty, crime and police brutality. The depth of the plot and the magnitude of the corruption is pure Temple, who never flinches from total honesty when dealing with man’s inhumanity to one another. Skillfully weaving the sacred and the profane, Temple delivers a thoroughly satisfying novel set in southern Australia, where man and beast coexist, some confusing that identity.