brought to my work mailbox this morning Peter Temple's Bad Debts, the first Jack Irish novel. Anyone who's been reading this blog for a little while knows that I love, love, love these books. Everything about them is exactly what I like (real estate, horse-racing, Australian lingo and crypic sports fare), but of course the real good thing is the language. So many places in these books make me wish I was teaching a writing class and could bring in a given paragraph RIGHT NOW as example. (The other thing they make me think, another important test, is that I should be writing a first-person inadvertent-detective series myself. I have thought about this many times and decided against it, for sensible reasons. But these books are so good it makes me think again. I want to write like this!) Temple is master of several things that I particularly value, including expert knowledge/terminology and the HYPHEN. Here's a good paragraph, at the very end of the very funny and dry first chapter (which is a sort of tour de force, and should be anthologized--I hope he slaved over this chapter for ages, otherwise we live in an unjust world):
The next day, I went to Sydney to talk to a possible witness to a near-fatal dispute in the carpark of the Melton shopping centre. It was supposed to be a six-hour quickie. It took two days, and a man hit me on the uper left arm with a full swing of a bseball bat. It was an aluminium baseball bat made in Japan. This would never have happened in the old days. He would have hit me with a Stewart Surridge cricket bat with black insulation tape around the middle. Except in the old days I didn't do this kind of work.
Everything here is worth reading. This book is fantastic, as is the whole series. But there is also (curiously) a lesson about why authors shouldn't worry about royalties. Jack has this thing about wood-working, he has apprenticed himself to a joiner, and the craft of it runs through all the books. But here's Jack mulling over his boss Charlie's Bank, a stock of insanely high-quality timber (he's about to use the boards to make furniture for a random company):
Did an emerging mining company deserve a table made from unobtainable timber air-dried for at least fifty years? Wouldn't some lesser, wetter timber do? The miners wouldn't notice. I'd once asked Charlie the same question about a bureau he was making for a hotel owner with drug connections. 'This arschloch I'm not making it for,' he said. 'He's just the first owner. I'm making it for all the owners.'
I have one complaint about plausibility in this one--Jack is too ready to fall for the blandishments of a corrupt government minister. (But perhaps you only see this through the lens of the later books, and this is his original sin? Lee Child has solved this problem by having the earliest installment of the Jack Reacher books come late in his writing series.) But Temple's books are ridiculously good. I am calling for the whole series to be published in the US ASAP....