Temple manages to keep a mood consistent with his post-traumatic lead character. We see characters through his world weary eyes. There’s something attractively Australian (at least to this inhibited reader) about how undemonstrative Cashin is, a refreshing contrast to so many excitable ADHD heroes. Still, I must admit that there are pleasing similarities to the quintessentially American detective, Phillip Marlowe. Of course Temple would be aware of this, but Cashin’s interactions still seem to come far more from a rural Australian than a West Coast US tradition. I suppose there’s a bit of pandering to our self-image as a hard-bitten, no nonsense race.
He moves through many recognisable local settings, occasionally flirting with an agenda, but overall he manages not to be particularly preachy. Most of the characters we meet are flawed, but not merely flawed. I really appreciate any book not basically populated with goodies and baddies – a surprisingly pervasive flaw of many a ‘serious’ novel. Sure Hopgood is irredeemable (representing rednecks), and anyone who went to a private school appears to be a paedophile or a psychotic torturing murderer, but none of Temple’s Koori characters are mere angels, nor are all the people who glibly condemn the daunt glibly presented as worthless. Oh, OK, there is the mandatory box ticking of a persecuted gay character.
Cashin’s gloominess comes across as justified rather than mere sulking, with Temple effectively bleeding out little tidbits of information about his past – which works so much better than trying to drown the reader in atrocity to evoke sympathy. There’s no doubting his craft as a writer.
This is well travelled territory in series like ‘Wildside’, which I’ve found is somewhere I like to visit now and again as an antidote to the often insultingly simplistic feel-good movies and sit-coms we’re surrounded by. Still, I’m not that keen to live there: dig a bit and most of us have had some pain, but in evoking his dystopic vision Temple perhaps goes a bit too far. Cynicism can be as blind to truth as optimism, both agendas projecting over reality: I’m hard pressed to think of a character in this story who is simply likeable and doesn’t hide some ugly secret, but they do exist. But if I can be allowed to seesaw again in this ‘nevertheless’ style paragraph, Temple does sneak us treats along the way, particularly in the acerbic romance, and in who survives and who dies, but also in Cashin’s rebuilding project, an unsubtle emblem of hope.
Even though, typically, Temple gave him an appalling ghost, I was never comfortable with the messianic flawlessness of the swaggie, or was he suggesting that holding everything so loosely, and just taking pride in little things well done is the key to security and self-actualisation or something?
A solid book.