Vale’ Peter Temple: Last Drinks at The Prince of Prussia

I came across Peter Temple around 2005. Must have been around the time of the publication of The Broken Shore.

I was rebuilding my life/career and doing crappy sales rep work, while looking for things to occupy my mind beyond the form guide. I think I heard him before I read him. Lots of time to fill on the road between appointments.

Talking Books were my lifeline to keep the car radio away from the racing station. Some books grabbed me, but more often it was a determined effort to stick with a boring if benign distraction.

I think I started with Dead Point – one of the Jack Irish quartet. They were billed as crime novels, but it was the complicated lives and meandering internal dialogue and whims of the protagonist that captured me. Jack/Peter seemed to think like me on my best (and occasionally worst) days. The characters that populated the book felt real, like people I had come across down the years.

And there was horse racing and footy and betting stings and loveable losers and front bar coodabeens. All the things I loved but now didn’t need to get pissed or broke to share in, through the magic of Temple’s narrative.

The crime story only seemed there to give the plot some direction. The book wandered engagingly for 3/4 of its length, and I remember feeling cheated when the bang/bang shoot ‘em up conclusion tied up the plot threads.

I came for the characters, why did we need an action thriller confrontation that brought an ending? I decided that this was the compulsory nod to convention to fit within a genre, or maybe even find a Hollywood producer?

I rushed back to the library to borrow another Temple. When they were out I scoured the library catalogues across Perth. I needed to find a “bookie” that had what I needed. Another Peter Temple yarn. Swapping one addiction for another.

I got through all the Jack Irish – Bad Debts; Black Tide; White Dog. I read/heard In the Evil Day – an international thriller set in his native South Africa.

Temple seemed to be experimenting with styles and genres, but always it was the conflicted personal lives and inner dialogue that captivated, more than who did what to who and why.

The Broken Shore was the big book. A sweeping novel more than a captivating yarn. Complex themes of corruption, race and abuse in the institutional structures of church, state and police – that reached far beyond Jack the lone avenger. Cashin – the protagonist – like Jack a good man who had made bad choices and was living with their consequences while trying to make less of a mess of the new questions life presented. Conflicting colleagues; duty versus honour; fragments of evidence; and like Jack a love interest that offered equal measures of deliverance and frustration.

Julia Gillard could have saved a fortune on lawyers and released Broken Shore as the Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse. Decades before, Temple had a ready eye for the guilty party and a nose for where the bodies were buried. A wink and a nod rather than years of hearings, and Commissioner Temple would gladly have bequeathed all the foregone lawyer fees to the victims.

Truth is the only Temple book on my bookshelf. Life had moved on so I could now afford to buy and read (thanks to PT’s distraction and support) – not just borrow and listen. A quasi-sequel to Broken Shore where minor characters become major; and the major minor. Threads of connection rather than Godfather 2.

I think its magnificent. Blood on the Tracks without having to go through the detours of New Morning. It had themes of fathers and sons and a good cop struggling with solving life more than solving crime. A kick in the guts and balm for the soul. Universal but so Australian that the pages seeped eucalyptus smoke.

When my son was contemplating a career change from Public Service IT Programmer to Policeman, I didn’t try to dissuade him. I sent him a copy of Truth, and figured he was smart enough to read between the lines about the family sacrifices that coppers make. The job never leaves you. Professional success and personal failure change steps in a circular waltz. (Daniel joined the Queensland Police Force anyway – but I won’t hold Temple liable – the book held the seeds of challenge and achievement that was never likely in date base development).

Truth was published in 2009. I eagerly awaited the next instalment, whatever the format or genre. It never came. I wondered if it was writers block? The impossible crescendo of Beethoven writing a 10th to surpass the 9th? Maybe he just wanted a quiet life to enjoy the fruits of his labour? Who could argue?

But now we know it was cancer. Last drinks in the snug at the Prince of Prussia with the other departed Roy Boys.

I remember a reviewer saying Peter Temple wasn’t the best crime writer in Australia.  He was the best writer. Works for me.


(Footnote: I remember discussing authors with JTH and him saying that Peter Temple had been a friend of the Almanac in the early days of the site. Type “Peter Temple” into the search box on the Home Page and there are several links that suggest he was a regular reader, but I couldn’t find any contributions.
Doubtless there are many Melbourne Knackers who were fortunate enough to know the man alongside his works.  Who did he barrack for?  Memories please.)


  1. G’day PB.
    That’s a terrific tribute.

    I was given The Broken Shore many years ago as a Christmas present. My Dad has a stunning success ratio when it comes to picking such winners.
    I, too, was taken with the coastal town setting, the characters, the conversations, the silences. The pokey little spaces of consequence , scenes of consequence, set under that big sky.
    I have no connection to P Temple.
    The closest I get is having seen Guy Pearce et al setting up for filming in a Fitzroy backstreet one early Thursday morning, a few years ago.
    Oddly, to this day The Broken Shore remains the only P Temple book that I have read.
    So I guess I have the good fortune of knowing that his other novels are still waiting.
    Thanks PB.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’ve read ’em all, loved them all (but have trouble telling one from another).

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab tribute PB. Loved all of Peter Temple’s books, the film/ TV adaptations portrayed the stories, the settings, and in particular, the characters so well. He will be sadly missed. Let’s hope there was one final book in the pipeline.

  4. Danae Gibson says

    thanks for sharing

  5. bring back the torp says

    Wonderful tribute, PB
    His books, & the TV series caught the “grittiness” of Melb.’s inner suburbs.

    The maudlin version below, appropriate in the circumstances.

    What we have lost -in the literary sense, AND football cultura/tribal sense.

  6. John Butler says

    Great work, PB.

    Temple lived up here in Ballarat. His regular haunt for years was L’Espresso, where we gather often on a Saturday morning. Never managed to bump into the man in person, despite the proximity. Now I never will.

    I’m a big fan of his early novel Shooting Star, as well as the many you’ve mentioned.

    A South African who ended up in Ballarat, but who wrote mainly about Melbourne. It’s an interesting combination.


  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic tribute PB. I read the Jack Irish books after first enjoying the TV movies.
    Haven’t read any of his other work, will make an effort to do so.
    Was nice to see Guy Pearce put up a lovely tribute to Peter Temple on twitter.

  8. Thanks, PB. This is a excellent tribute. And the last couple of lines sum him up really.

    I was extremely saddened to learn of the passing of one my favourite writers. Peter Temple was nothing short of brilliant. I first got into him through the Jack Irish books, then read Broken Shore on its release.
    For me, Truth is one of the greatest books I have read. Full stop.
    RIP, P Temple

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