Every so often, I come across a book that just blows me away; a book that is so powerful, so atmospheric, so well written, that time seems to stand still while reading it.
The last time this happened was late last year when I first came across Gillian Flynn's debut novel Sharp Objects (which incidentally is published in paperback here in the UK on September 19).
And it has happened this week with The Broken Shore, Peter Temple's award-winning 2005 novel of life and death in a rural town on the coast of Victoria, Australia.
I'm not sure how I managed to miss this book for so long, given it has had a pretty high profile but I'm eternally grateful to Steven Maat, a fiction publisher in the Netherlands, who I ran into in Harrogate and who insisted I had to read Peter Temple; that somehow my crime fiction education would be incomplete without him. Well Steven, you were right.
This is a staggeringly good novel, which has just about everything. I can't recall the last novel I read which has quite such a sense of place. Temple really brings rural Australia alive: the space, the silence, the wild life, the economic destitution, the hopelessness, insularity and suspicion of so many of its inhabitants. He does for this part of Victoria (wherever it is, his towns of Cromarty and Port Monro do not exist on any map I can find) what James Lee Burke does for Louisiana, and I have no higher praise to offer than that. You can practically smell the place, feel the darkness, hear the silence.
Then there is Temple's cast of small town characters and big City cops. The central protagonist here, homicide detective Joe Cashin, who has relocated to his boyhood home town to be local bobby as he recuperates from injury, is memorable and well-constructed. His is an uncomfortable presence, at odds with the world, ill at ease in himself but fits strangely into his new environs.
Others are similarly well-drawn: Villani, his boss in Melbourne; Hopgood, the local hot shot cop from the town down the road; Rebb the swaggie; Cecily Addison the oddly-grand lawyer.
But it is not just the major characters who fill the space so convincingly. Every bit part player that walks across the page does the same. Part of it is the brilliant use of language, which also helps to establish location so well (although if you are offended by the word "cunt" I would probably steer clear).
With all this going for him, Temple, barely needs a plot. But he has a great one. It's a classic mystery theme: a rich man murdered in his own home. PIled on top of this is racism, corruption in officialdom, complex, dangerous family links and social division. The best books are always those that tell you something about the human condition. This one has it in spades.
The Broken Shore is, lights out, the best book I have read this and probably last year. It is a class apart, and I cannot wait to get my hands on another Peter Temple book.