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Jack Irish Is An Across The Board Winner!
on 14 November 2005
I like Jack Irish. I like him a lot. Fortunately for me MacAdam/Cage now publishes author Peter Temple's noir novels, featuring Mr. Irish, in the US. By the way, he is not Irish at all, but the great-grandson of I. Reich, a German Jewish immigrant to Australia. In a market chock-full of detective type anti-heroes, Jack stands above the pack as the only Renaissance sleuth. He's also a man from Melbourne who gives great Aussie slang! Literary points for that! Professionally his moniker reads "licensed criminal attorney," but he branches out into debt collecting and is not above doing his own investigative work either. A horse-racing man and habitual gambler, barfly, apprentice cabinetmaker and Australian Rules Football fanatic, Irish is just pulling himself off the rails, and a serious bout with self destruction involving alcohol, when the novel begins. His wife was murdered by a disgruntled former client and Jack is only now beginning to cope with the rage and guilt while sober.
As he surfaces, he discovers that Danny McKillop, supposedly a former client, has been leaving a series of desperate sounding messages on his answering machine. Jack needs to refresh his memory since the Danny McKillop part of his past is a blur. The files show him the man was convicted of a hit and run accident, while under the influence of considerable alcohol, which resulted in a young woman's death. There were witnesses and plenty of evidence, so Irish could not have done much on Danny's behalf...even if he had been sober with his act pulled together. Recently released after serving ten years in the penitentiary, McKillop apparently wants to speak with his old lawyer ASAP. When Irish starts returning the multiple phone calls, he is informed that Danny has been murdered, like yesterday - by a cop, no less, who claims self defense.
Jack is also tipped-off that Danny may have been innocent - that the woman's death, which he supposedly caused, might have benefited some politically powerful people. A few too many convenient murders later, (inconvenient, however, for Irish who is trying to shed some light on what appears to be a series of crimes, scams and cover-ups), Jack is warned off the case. It's those powerful people again. He is scared enough to seriously consider dropping it too. I told you he is a Renaissance sleuth, and not ashamed to be called a coward either. Seriously, there is wonderful dark humor throughout, but Temple's prose communicates a sense of evil menace quite effectively. It is not difficult to understand Jack Irish's fear given what fuels it.
Although plot driven, I am extremely drawn to the protagonist and his supporting cast. These characters, and Irish's interaction with them, give wonderful depth to the book. Jack works part time for Charlie Taub, a master cabinetmaker, and is dedicated to learning the craft despite the flack he frequently takes from his employer and teacher. It is obvious that the concentration required for the demanding carpentry work gives Irish some peace of mind and some breathing space as well.
Then there are the horse racing guys - or at least that's how I have labeled them. These men do not fool around with spending a day at the track. Their well-orchestrated machinations involve spotting horses who are long shots, outsiders, and setting them up to win, against the odds, for profit and pleasure. The wonderful Harry Strang, who gives a whole new meaning to "moneyed," is the man you want to see about a horse. Cam, who has "the Eye" know more than most about thoroughbreds and when he is not advising Harry about the four-legged creatures, he is enforcing Stang's will upon the two-legged variety. The gang down at the local pub is also introduced here as is Drew, Jack's former partner, and Linda, a potential love interest.
Peter Temple has won four Ned Kelly Awards, (the Australian equivalent of the Edgars), for Crime Fiction, including one for Best First Novel with "Bad Debts." Known in Australia primarily for his Jack Irish novels, Temple has a following which could very well expand to include a US audience now that "Black Tide" (book two) has also been released.
Looks like a winning series to me - certainly based on this well written, highly enjoyable debut. Highly recommended.