Peter Temple: Bad Debts (1996) A Jack Irish Mystery

Meet Jack Irish: some-time lawyer, part-time private eye, spare-time cabinet maker and full-time lover of strong coffee, swift horses and spirited women.

Bad Debts is the first in Australian crime writer Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. Temple has won a lot of Australian prizes for his crime and thriller writing. I think it is the first time I read an Australian crime writer. I was very curious and looking forward to the novel and for a total of 50 pages I really enjoyed it.

It’s starts off well enough, quite sarcastic and humorous. Jack Irish seems a typical hardboiled private eye and debt collector. He used to be a lawyer but when his wife is killed he starts drinking and spends a year in total limbo. Sometime during that year he has to defend Danny McKillop, a drunk-driver, who killed a woman. The woman he killed, Anne Jeppeson, was an activist and pain in the neck for many people. The driver had no memory of either driving a car or hitting someone.

Ten years have gone by and all of a sudden Danny McKillop leaves messages on Jack’s answering machine. By the time Jack hears them McKillop has been shot by the police. Jack feels guilty. It seems to him as if he had let down McKillop a second time and he starts to investigate not only his death but also Anne Jeppeson’s death.

After interviewing a few people he finds out that there were and are a lot of strange things going on. People in high places are doing things they don’t want anyone to find out about. His investigation leads Jack deep into corruption and conspiracy and the farther he gets into these things, the more he endangers himself. The last third of the novel is very action-packed.

The beginning of the novel was humorous and I thought it might be one of the series I would like to explore further but after 20-50 pages, there were far too many things I didn’t like. Jack isn’t a lawyer anymore, he tries to make a living collecting debts, betting on horses and doing cabinets. All these different occupations take up time and pages which is very disruptive. On top of that I hate horse-racing stories. Not only do I despise horse-racing I also find it outrageously boring to read about it.

Another problem I had was the language. A large part of the novel consists of dialogue. Australian spoken language seems much closer to British English than to American English. I certainly didn’t mind that. But I did mind that most of the dialogue was composed of swearing and foul language. It was somewhat tiring after a while. And there is the love story. Maybe Jack has been mourning for ten years, but for us, who just got to know him, it’s odd to see him mourn on one page and jump at full speed into a love affair on the next one. And how do I have to picture a woman who is not good-looking but handsome?

I realized that I have a few first and occasionally second books in series at hand and decided to start to read my way through them. Peter Temple’s book was one of them. I’m sure the Jack Irish series has its merits, only I couldn’t find them.

Does anyone know the series? Or any other Australian crime novels/series?

John Marsden: Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993) An Australian Page-turner

When Ellie and her friends go camping, they have no idea they’re leaving their old lives behind forever. Despite a less-than-tragic food shortage and a secret crush or two, everything goes as planned. But a week later, they return home to find their houses empty and their pets starving. Something has gone wrong–horribly wrong. Before long, they realize the country has been invaded, and the entire town has been captured–including their families and all their friends. Ellie and the other survivors face an impossible decision: They can flee for the mountains or surrender. Or they can fight.

Sometimes you want to read for pure entertainment, something that is fast-paced, action-packed but still interesting. Tomorrow, When the War Began is exactly like that, a real page-turner. I discovered the book on Jenclair’s blog last year and am really glad I read it. I am not too much into  series but this start into the Tomorrow Series was really gripping. Too bad that it isn’t an independent book. It’s rather a series in the spirit of the TV series Lost. It always ends when it’s most supenseful, when something big happens. You really have to go on reading if you want to know what’s going to happen next. Jenclair has read all the books meanwhile. You can find her second review here.

Ellie and her friends go camping instead of participating in a cattle show that takes place during Commemoration Day. They make a trip into the Australian mountains and discover a place that very possibly no one has ever seen before. Or only one person, a hermit, who is said to have lived there. The hermit is a man who has been accused of the murder of his wife and baby and escaped into the mountains.

The place they discover is enchanted. It seems to belong to another world, untouched by civilization. They enjoy their stay a lot and leave only reluctantly. When they arrive at their homes, the coming back is a brutal one. Their houses and farms have been abandoned, their animals are dead or dying. Bit by bit they discover that Australia has been invaded and all the people are captives.

The adventures that follow are numerous and dangerous. They first need to find out what happened, then they need to make decisions. How are they going to live and where? How will they hide, what will they eat? It seems natural that they return to the hidden place in the mountains. The country is swarming with foreign soldiers and every expedition is a trial.

We never hear who has invaded the country but we learn why. People in neighbouring poor countries couldn’t accept that a lot belongs to a few rich people and they came to redistribute what is here.

What I liked particularly is the setting. I have never been to Australia but I have seen movies and it is a country whose landscape fascinates me. The setting is rendered very well, in a very descriptive manner. I liked the exploration of topics like war, murder, social justice and injustice. I was just wondering for a moment if it is ethical, to base a book on the idea that poor people or a poor country could act in such an aggressive way. I think what Marsden had in mind, was raising the awareness that there are people less well off than those in the Western hemisphere. Another question that arose was whether they would have the military power to invade.

The characters are not all equally well drawn, two stay a bit schematic but that may change in the future books, maybe they will be more developed.

If you want to read something that is really absorbing, this is a good choice.

Did I mention it is a YA novel? I often enjoy the topics they explore and this is no different. Part one of the series has been made into a film. I haven’t seen it, no idea if it is any good.

Do you like series and if so which ones?