World Crime Atlas: the retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world.
Truth, by Peter Temple
The Plot: Victoria Police’s homicide department is faced with a spate of killings in Melbourne. A young woman’s naked body is found in a luxury apartment block. The mutilated bodies of three drug dealers are discovered in an abandoned warehouse. Police efforts to establish if the murders are related are blocked by corrupt politicians, businessmen and media interests. Beyond the city limits, meanwhile, huge forest fires are threatening small towns across the state.
Where and when: The story is set around the time of the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.
The Detectives: The plot revolves around Stephen Villani, acting head of homicide and a man whose professional and personal lives are hugely compromised.
Sense of Place: The burning countryside is vividly described: “A burning world – scarlet hills, grey-white funeral plumes, trees exploding, blackened vehicle carapaces.” In the city, the heat is different but just as dangerous: “The street door resisted him, then the outside hit, hot air of wood smoke and petrochemicals, fuels ancient and new.”
They combine to create a nightmare: “In the street now, the night wind had brought the smoke from the high country, mingled it with the city smells of petrochemicals, carbon, sulphur, cooking oils and burnt rubber, drains, sewers, hot tar, dogs, balsamic night sweats, the little gasps of a million beer openings, a hundred trillion sour human breaths.”
Temple’s Melbourne is an ugly, violent city: “In the ghostly city, he saw the newspaper bales being dumped, the lost people, the homeless, the unhinged, a man and a woman sitting on the kerb passing a bottle, a figure face down, crucified in a pool of piss.”
Worth reading? Truth is the sequel to Temple’s bestseller The Broken Shore (in which Villani appears as a minor character). I would recommend reading both.