This novel had all the elements I like in a book, interesting characters, interesting locations (Australia), a crime theme, conflict among characters and conflict within the locale, history, etc., so I anticipated enjoying the book more than I did. I’m not entirely sure if it was the book or me, since other reviews have implied it is very well written and has won awards.
The primary character is Joe Cashin, a Melbourne police detective who has been temporarily reassigned to a small town while he recovers emotionally and physically from prior devastating injuries inflicted by a madman. What originally happened to him is slowly revealed in glimpses and flashbacks throughout the novel, but in the present, we see someone who is very conflicted with his own role in what happened, his current role within the jurisdiction of his new assignment, and within himself in terms of dealing with his almost constant pain. In many respects, I saw him as both the “good cop/bad cop” in the story.
He is attempting to soothe and rebuild his life both through the quiet aspects of the small town and the idea of rebuilding his father’s station (ranch), without having a good idea of what either entails. He befriends a swagger (Australian man of all trades who goes from area to area, rather like a hobo), though both are reticent to admit to their friendly relationship and the fact that each is helping the other. One theme within the novel and is that nobody is whom they appear to be, so the reader does a lot of wondering.
In the meantime, the quiet town is rocked by a horrific murder of a wealthy and respected man, and Cashin becomes central to the investigation, though not of his own accord. When he and other officers attempt to pull over three Aboriginal suspects in a car and there is a shoot-out, everyone assumes the “Abos” are the perpetrators, case solved. He begins to think otherwise, however, and follows other leads, which eventually leads him to historic crimes in the region involving various “upright citizens” whom no one would suspect of such gruesome crimes then and in the present. As in any crime novel, his thinking thus puts his own life in danger as he unravels what really happened both past and present.
All of the characters within the book, including Cashin, are interesting and realistic, with both flaws and issues that are admirable and/or acceptable and understandable. Even Australia itself, becomes one of the characters within the novel, with its violence and prejudices against the Aboriginal people, with the quick assumptions that “they” are the perpetrators, and the distrust the Aboriginal people have toward government and police authorities. The broken shore, a local shoreline abyss that has taken lives and tempted lives, becomes a character within as well. At times, I felt all of the characters were a bit of stretch, as if the author were trying to connect things that hadn’t begun as connected, and which led to some confusion.
I found the plot and subplots somewhat confusing at times but they all came together relatively well at the end of the novel. However, I was also dissatisfied with the end, a somewhat anti-climatic ending. The writing itself was somewhat poetic at times and it was easy to get sidetracked by it. I’d have preferred more interactions with the locals and more dialogue, maybe even more flashbacks to get a better understanding of Cashin.
Because I enjoy crime novels and because I enjoy settings in other countries, I anticipated enjoying this book more than I did. I felt at times I was pushing through it to find out what happened but in the end, I realized I didn’t much care, so was disappointed in that respect. I also was reading this while coming down with a tenacious illness and maybe my mindset was just not there, but I’ve let some time lapse before writing this review, thinking maybe I would see it differently, but unfortunately I didn’t, and I don’t really anticipate reading any more of Peter Temple’s novels.