I often think the time at which I finish a book is a good guide to how compelling I found it, how much I needed to finish it. I finished Truth at about 2am. Another good guide might be how long you lie awake thinking about. At least an hour. With the alarm set for 7, this was hardly good preparation for a busy day, but boy was it ever worth it.
When Peter Temple turns on the literary afterburners, there aren't many writers who can stay with him. His prose is rich and earthy and his dialogue in particular is special, rounding out his characters, giving them flesh, blood and soul. And the themes he explores lend his books a sharp and cutting edge that lifts them above the ordinary: ethics, loyalty, corruption, politics, family, age, personal and public failings.
Truth explores the twin investigations into the murder of a young woman in an exclusive Melbourne appartment and the apparently gangland slaying of two Slavic thugs and a companion. The senior investigating officer is Melbourne's head of homicide, Stephen Villani, a close friend and colleague of Joe Cashin, the police officer at the centre of The Broken Shore, Temple's 2005 masterpiece.
Villani is a cop of the old school, a man who sacrifices almost everything to bring justice to the victims of the crimes he investigates. His marriage is a wreck, his family distant and estranged. In an increasingly politicised police department, his refusal to "play the game" threatens his career.
His investigations take place against the backdrop of forthcoming State elections in Victoria, and the policing of the City becomes a live and vicious campaign issue, the investigation a political pawn.
Money also rears its almost inevitably ugly head. The appartment the girl has died in is linked to one of Melbourne's richest families. With campaign dollars at stake, nobody but Villani wishes to stir the pot and to uncover the truth.
But Villani is unbending, placing his career, his family, his life at risk. In the background, in rural Victoria, catastrophic bush fires rage, closing in on the childhood home Villani's father still inhabits. The metaphor could hardly be clearer.
This is exceptional crime fiction. If it does not quite reach the heights of The Broken Shore, that does not diminish it. (Only three or four books I have read can). It is intelligent, fascinating, gripping and universal.
It might keep you up all night, but you will not regret it.