The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

Read: 15 January, 2013

After getting injured on the job, Joe Cashin leaves Melbourne Homicide for a post in his rural home town while he recovers. While he deals with some family tragedies, the trauma of his last Homicide case, and the politics and racism of his new environment, he investigates the brutal murder of the town’s wealthy hero, Charles Burgoyne.

I really enjoyed this book! It takes a long time for it to really get into the mystery, but that time is well spent on establishing Cashin’s character and the various factions that make up the town. Once the mystery starts in earnest, the red herrings and plot twists are expertly handled, such that I really felt taken along all the false roads with no cheating.

Race plays a fairly significant part in this story, as the murder is cast as rich white guy brutalized and killed by thieving aboriginal kids. This leads to an overt conflict between  the white side of town and the slums. I found the question of race to be deftly handled. It’s explicit in parts, but never gets browbeating.

The story has a strong Australianity. The slang peppering the story is an obvious example, as are the descriptions of the town – Port Monro – and nearby Melbourne. I’ve never been to Australia, so I’m probably a poor judge, but I feel like Temple really nailed that “sense of place” aspect. And I, for one, will be adding “spaggy bol” to my vocabulary!

Cashin is a very interesting character. In fact, I think it could be argued that the book is far more about him and his journey to come to terms with the past (both his on-the-job injury and his family history) than it is about the murder of Burgoyne.

The writing style is fantastic, with great use of imagery and metaphors. The dialogue is very snappy and funny, and Cashin is pretty much the master of sarcasm. I think it’s fair to say that Temple does something special with the detective mystery genre in Broken Shore, and I highly recommend giving it a try!

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