Category Archives: Temple Peter

Black Tide: Peter Temple

Black Tide, the second Jack Irish novel, finds Jack still working as a lawyer/debt collector/finder of missing persons/hobby cabinet-maker. For those who have not read the first book Bad Debts, Jack Irish was a successful criminal lawyer until a pissed-off client murdered his pregnant wife. From that point, life was all downhill for Jack, but he was eventually pulled from purgatory by his former law partner, Andrew Greer. Jack is still broken–some things can’t ever be fixed, but he’s functional–in an alternative kind of way.

Black Tide

Black Tide opens at a funeral with Jack and his “occasional employer,” Cyril Wootton. Gangster George Armit is dead. A funeral is hardly a place for humour but the author pulls it off, and this is a perfect example of the type of humour you find in these pages:

It was a small affair. Almost everyone George had known was dead. Many of them were dead because George had had them killed. As Cyril wryly notes, the mourners are the “most relieved lot I’ve seen since the plane out of Vietnam.”

The main plot of the novel concerns Des Connors, a man who knew Jack’s father, who comes knocking on Jack’s door,

“Looking for me?” I asked. 

He gave me a looking over with clear bluer eyes. “Jack Irish.” Not a question.

I nodded.

He sniffed. “Don’t ya keep office hours?”

“Called out urgently,” I said. 

“Should have put a note on the door.”

He carried on eyeing me, the look of a talent scout. A faintly disappointed talent scout. “Spit of yer old man,” he said. “Bag as. And the face. Bill was pretty hard though.”

I looked down at myself, gained no pleasure from the experience. “Well,” I said, “I’m a bit older than he was.”

The man thought about this. “Still,” he said.” Bit soft.”

No immediate way to controvert this statement occurred to me.

Des has, apparently, come to make a will, and Jack asks if he has children. This opens the conversation to include Des’s second son ex-copper Gary who is, according to Des, “smart but rubbish.” Des lent Gary 60,000 dollars with the promise he’d “double the money” in three weeks through buying shares. Two months have passed with no sign of Gary. But that’s not the worst of it. Des’s wife willed the house to Gary ,and Gary took an 80,000 mortgage out on the house and Des is about to be evicted. And that’s how Jack, who’s big on settling debts and obligations, get’s involved and starts looking for Gary who, as it turns out, is neck deep in some very nasty business.

As always, there’s a sub-plot involving racing and there’s also Jack’s private life which we can’t forget. He hangs out at the local pub and follows the local football team. The oldsters who sit on the stools seem planted there and are always full of opinions. The woman Jack became involved with in Book 1, Bad Debts, reporter Linda, has debunked to greener career pastures and Jack is missing her… sort of. I didn’t like this one as much as Bad Debts but it’s always fun to ride along with Jack Irish–no matter the destination. And if you haven’t watched the TV version, it’s well worth checking out.

review copy

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Bad Debts: Peter Temple

“One thing practicing law gives you is a feeling for some kinds of truth.”

I’ve been meaning to read the Jack Irish novels for years, but then I watched the series which featured the marvelous Guy Pearce as the title character. Guy Pearce IS Jack Irish–he’s excellent in the role, so good in fact that I started to wonder if I should skip the books.

Jack Irish

Roll on to Bad Debts, the first book in the series: I was in the mood for some light crime, and Jack Irish seemed the perfect choice.  First for those who haven’t seen the series, Jack Irish was a successful criminal lawyer until his wife was murdered by a pissed off client. Then he sank into an alcoholic haze. It was the beginning of the forgotten zone,” and when he hit rock bottom, Jack’s former law partner, Andrew Greer “pulled strings” to get Jack “off a variety of charges.”  Jack lives in Fitzroy and only does very minor legal work; most of his income comes from “collecting serious debts or finding witnesses.”

I found Edward Dollery, age forty-seven, defrocked accountant, big spender and dishonest person, living in a house rented in the name of Carol Pick. It was in a new brick-veneer suburb built of cow pasture west of the city, one of those strangely silent developments where the average age is twelve and you can feel the pressure of the mortgages on your skin.

Eddie Dollery’s skin wasn’t looking good. He’d cut himself several times shaving and each nick was wearing a little red centered rosette of toilet paper. The rest of Eddie, short, bloated, was wearing yesterday’s superfine cotton business shirt, striped, and scarlet pajama pants, silk. The overall effect was not fetching.

This is how the novel opens, I swept right into Jack Irish’s world and was delighted to hang out in his company for the course of the novel. The plot involves the death of an ex-client, McKillop, a man who approaches Jack pleading for help, but before Jack makes contact, the man is shot dead by police. Jack begins digging with a low grade curiosity and a twinge of nagging guilt. The dead man was one of the last people Jack represented during his black alcoholic phase; he remembers little of the case and so it’s with a sense of tenderly, tentatively probing this awful time in his life that he begins to ask questions. Soon he’s warned off the case which, of course, only fuels Jack’s quest. In a way Jack feels as though he owes McKillop something and this feeling, a debt not paid, propels Jack forward.

As always with a series PI (and that’s basically what Jack is at this point–that and an amateur woodworker) the story vacillates between the character’s personal and private life. In Bad Debts, the story moves between Jack’s various jobs, so one plot thread finds him digging into lucrative gentrification contracts, while another plot thread finds him hanging out with Cameron Delray, the understated “enigmatic footsoldier,” who works for diminutive Harry Strang, a horse racing enthusiast. Wily Strang frequently employs Jack Irish for a range of jobs.

Bad Debts is loaded with marvelous characters: there’s the three senior citizens who appear to be glued permanently to the stools of the local pub “nursing glasses of beer and old grievances.” There’s also Stan the publican and Senior Sergeant Barry Tregear–a man who constantly eats fast food messily, and “looked two slabs of beer away from fat.” All these characters appear in the series. It’s in this novel that Jack meets reporter Linda. She was a character I disliked intensely in the series: too holier-than-thou for my tastes, and she seemed a bit mismatched for Jack’s low-key, understated, damaged yet slightly slippery character. In the novel, she’s more relaxed and interesting. If you enjoy horse racing or football, you will have additional plot elements to interest you, but for me, Jack’s world vision is the best thing in the book. There’s something about that sense of humour that lets you know what lowlifes people really are without that sort of reflected back judgement which always taints:

He was an ex-cop called Col Boon, pensioned off the force for extreme hypertension after shooting another cop during a raid on an indoor dope plantation in Coburg. A tragic mistake, the coroner said. I suppose in some ways it’s always a tragic mistake to shoot the man who’s rooting your wife every time you’re on nightshift and he’s not. 

Review copy.

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