Book Reviews

The Red Hand by Peter Temple

Perhaps you have never met a charismatic curmudgeon, but that is how Michael Heyward from Text Publishing described brilliant thriller writer Peter Temple in his introduction to The Red Hand., a collection of short works released after the author’s death in 2018/

Lovers of Temple’s best-known antihero, Jack Irish, will be thrilled that this book contains 90 pages of riveting mystery and adventure prose from Jack’s last case, High Art. Unfortunately, the joy will be short-lived. The novel is unfinished, so we will never be able to unravel the usual convoluted strands which make Temple’s mystery stories puzzling, but intensely enjoyable.

Heyward concludes “…When Jack Irish isn’t part of a scam at the racetrack or planing aged walnut boards in Charlie Taub’s workshop, he listens to Mahler and breakfasts on anchovy toast, drinking tea from bone china. Some of Temple’s female readers discreetly inquired if it might be arranged for them to sleep with Jack Irish.”

This volume also includes six stand-alone short stories and 16 reviews and essays, many of which were published in respected journals including Griffith Review and The Bulletin.

Some of Temple’s reviews were searing in their criticism. He wrote of Agatha Christie: “Having money made her more and more satisfied with herself, more and more convinced that the view from an English country house was the only sane one.”

On John leCarré’s Absolute Friends: “…(it) joins the list of recent le Carré novels that resemble Zeppelins: huge things that take forever to inflate, float around for a bit, then expire in flames.” And James Ellroy is “graceless, charmless, witless.”

But Temple loved Raymond Chandler’s work and eulogised Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright: “He captures the icy, flooding charm of the first beer on a heatstruck day. He knows what it feels like to catch luck’s eye and hold the gaze across a smoky room… And he knows dark things – the frightening chasm that opens when certainty disappears, the savagery in the human heart.”

The Red Hand contains other Temple gems – including the full script of the charmingly humorous Valentine’s Day (a rural football saga made into a telemovie) and his full glossary of Australian idioms, written to allow his American publisher to explain fair dinkum language to readers. I particularly loved this definition: “Trackies – tracksuits, two-piece garments once worn only by people engaged in athletic pursuits, now worn by people who wish they had.”

Peter Temple is the only crime writer to win the Miles Franklin Award. Heyward reports that after the award dinner on a return flight from Sydney to Melbourne “…the captain announced Peter’s triumph over the PA. Our fellow passengers burst into cheering and applause. It was a wonderful moment. Peter pretended to be horrified but got off the plane with a secret half-smile, his response to the folly of things, which is how I remember him.”

Not bad for a South African born charismatic curmudgeon, who made Australia his home and became a national treasure!

Reviewed by Peter Maywald
Murder on a Monday Reading Group

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The Red Hand by Peter Temple

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