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?