This morning I awoke to the news that this book has won this years Miles Franklin Award. Am I surprised? I haven't read any of the other books that were shortlisted but it is rare for a crime writer to be awarded such a prestigious writing award. One of the criteria for the judging is that the book "must present Australian life in its many phases". This book certainly does this. It is just not a pleasant phase to read about.
Most of us will have watched Underbelly on television and read reports in the media about the criminal under life of Melbourne. We have also watched the recent bushfires and its impact on the surrounds of this city. Peter Temple combines these two themes into his book - it is summer, hot, smoky, smelly and we are confronted with the death of a young woman, closely followed by a gangland torture killing. Steve Villani, the head of the Homicide squad is set to investigate both these crimes, but is strongly warned off investigating the death of the woman. This does not stop him or his team. As the story unfolds, we find out about Villani's childhood, his family life, his disintegrated marriage, his daughter Lizzy and her drug problems, as well as the corruption in the government, police department and the lives of the rich and wealthy.
Temple is understated in his writing, and uses words sparingly and well. Despite the lack of flowery descriptive language, I can smell the fire, feel the relentless heat and see the world that he describes - quite remarkable. The theme of truth unites all the different stories into one complete story - Villani is determined to find out the truth about what really happened to the girl who died who bears an uncanny resemblance to his daughter Lizzy. He is also confronted with facing the truths about his own life - how his father feels about him, his past and why his marriage is over, also what sort of father has he been to his own children?
There is wonderful description in the book of a forest that Villani and his father planted years ago - it is the only place of beauty and sanctuary to exist in the entire book. Even it is threatened by the fire - but miraculously survives: "Scorched, the outer trees singed. They would lose some. But everywhere, in their circles and clumps and paths, the oaks were in full glorious summer green leaf." This single sentence could easily be missed, but indicates to me, the reader that truth will prevail - it survives - as does Villani.
This morning I read Psalm 52, and in a way, this book is almost a modern day tale with a similar theme. In this world, there are those who love evil, who store up much wealth, and who love falsehood rather than speaking the truth, those who trust in their own wealth and grow strong by destroying others. David ends this Psalm:
But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love for ever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints." v8-9There is an encouragement in the book, that the evil will one day be laid bare and shown for what they really are. Truth does survive all. The challenge is to continue to put my trust and energy in the things of God - they will stand and survive.
If you love a good crime thriller, you will want to read this one. Henning Mankell writes similarly about life in Sweden. It is almost easier to read books like this that are set in another country. Sadly, there is no Commissario Brunetti, who is the main character in all of Donna Leon's books, who writes about similar themes, she manages to sooth her readers with the wonderful descriptions of his home life and the food he eats and his little visits to coffee shops. There is none of that in Truth - it is relentless and harrowing.