Bad Debts

Peter Temple

The first in Peter Temple’s Jack Irish (one of the Hound's greatest crime fighters) series is this one, Bad Debts.

 

MacAdam Cage proudly presents Bad Debts, the first book in the fabulous Jack Irish series. Meet Jack Irish criminal lawyer, debt collector, sports lover, horse-racing man and trainee cabinetmaker not to mention the best crime character we?ve seen in years. When Jack receives a puzzling message from a jailed ex-client, he's too deep in misery over his football team's latest loss to take much notice. Next thing Jack knows, the ex-client's dead and he's been drawn into an investigation involving high-level corruption, dark sexual secrets, shonky property deals?and murder. With hit men after him, shady ex-policemen at every turn, and the body count rising, Jack needs to find out what's going on?and fast.

 

An utterly compelling crime novel, Bad Debts has everything: humor, action, suspense, and a truly unforgettable cast of characters.

Jack Irish is a former attorney who drank himself out of his career after the murder of his wife Isabel. Now he makes a living by handling a few odds and ends of legal matters and by tracking down people who owe money to creditors. One day, Irish gets a call from a former client Danny McKillop, a man he represented in a drink driving case several years earlier. At the time, McKillop was convicted and sent to prison. Now he’s free and he wants to meet up with Irish. At first Irish doesn’t remember much about the case; at the time he represented McKillop he spent most of his time in an alcoholic haze. But finally he remembers who McKillop is and tries to return the call. That’s when he discovers that Danny McKillop has been murdered. Irish already feels guilty about McKillop because he was too drunk and devastated by Isabel’s death to do a good job of representing his client. Now he feels even more so because he didn’t respond to McKillop’s call until it was too late. So he begins to ask some questions about how and why McKillop was murdered.

Irish starts by looking again at the case that sent McKillop to prison. The woman McKillop was alleged to have killed was Anne Jeppeson, a political activist who was managing a protest against the closing of a public housing estate in Melbourne’s Yarrabank section. The chief witness against McKillop was Ronnie Bishop, whose testimony seemed conclusive at the time. But Irish wants to talk to Bishop again and get more details about what he saw on the night of Jeppeson’s death. When he tries to do so, though, he finds that Bishop has moved to Perth. He travels there only to find that Bishop isn’t there, either. He begins to wonder whether there was more to the death of Anne Jeppeson than a drink driving hit.

Bad Debts is in some ways a “hardboiled” thriller, so the action comes quickly and the pace keeps up. Irish gets into more than one – er – disagreement, with painful results. There’s even a car chase and a rooftop escape. But for all that, the novel doesn’t rely on those “action-packed” moments to tell the story. The story itself is a believable set of crimes for believable motives.

One of the elements that runs through this novel is the character of Jack Irish. He’s been devastated by his wife’s murder and has just begun to come to terms with it when the story begins. But at the same time, he doesn’t wallow in his grief. He admits that he lost himself in booze after the murder and that that’s responsible for a lot of his downward spiral since then. And he’s picking up his life again. He’s multi-dimensional; yes, he’s a private investigator, “people-finder” and sometimes-lawyer. But he also works part time at a cabinetry shop. He’s an avid sport fan and Fitzroy supporter and he likes horse racing. In fact, there’s an interesting sub-plot in this novel having to do with horse racing and betting arrangements. It’s not tied to the main plot, but it’s engaging in its own right. Irish is also a reader, although not what you’d call a bibliophile. And as we get to know Irish, we care about him.

Another character whose personality is woven through this novel is that of Linda Hillier. She’s smart, skilled and shrewd. She’s got plenty of strong will, too. For instance, at one point, Irish is almost persuaded to leave the case alone. When Hillier finds out, she wastes no time in telling Irish exactly what she thinks of him for doing that, and makes it clear that this story is a major scoop that she’s not going to let go. That said, though, Hillier isn’t a stereotypical superhero-who-does-everything-better-than-her-misogynist-male-colleagues. It’s little wonder Irish is attracted to her and the feeling is mutual. In fact, the two develop a relationship. But it happens naturally and it’s not without its “bumps in the road.

”There are other appealing characters in the novel, too. For instance, there’s Andrew “Drew” Greer, Irish’s former law partner, and Cameron “Cam” Delray, who works for one of Irish’s occasional employers and betting mates. There’s also Charlie Taub, who owns the cabinetry shop where Irish sometimes works. Throughout the novel, these three, and a few other characters too, show their loyalty to Irish and through their eyes we see that Irish is essentially a good guy, though certainly not flawless. They’re Irish’s mates and they stay loyal to him. There’s a lot of good-natured teasing, but it’s clear that Irish can depend on them. They’ve been there when Irish has been at his worst and we get the feeling they’ll stay mates.This isn’t a light novel; there’s a lot of darkness and sadness, and Temple doesn’t make light of either the magnitude of what Irish and Hillier are investigating or the effect of the murders on those involved. But at the same time there is a thread of humour, albeit sometimes dark and sarcastic humour, in the story. For example, at one point, Irish and Hillier pay a visit to UrbanData, a company that collects and sells data about every aspect of Melbourne. Here’s how Temple describes their encounter with Gerry Schuster, Hillier’s contact there: “Gerry Schuster was fat and that’s putting it politely. She was on a backless ergonomic kneeling contraption in an alcove created out of two computer workstations. I assumed that was what she was on. No part of what supported her was visible beneath a garishly coloured tent big enough to house four small Bedouin. Linda said, ‘Gerry, this is Jack Irish. He’s got an interest in this stuff too.’

From beneath a greasy fringe that touched her eyebrows, Gerry gave me the look that chefs reserve for three-day-old fish. ‘Meechou,’ she said. You couldn’t have posted a five-cent coin through her lips when she spoke.” It turns out that Gerry Schuster provides Irish and Hillier valuable information that helps them tie the case together.Finally, this novel is distinctly placed in Melbourne. In fact, Bad Debts was the co-winner of the 1997 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. The Ned Kelly Awards are given for the purpose of “recognizing outstanding works in the field of crime fiction and non-fiction by Australian authors,” and it’s easy to see why Bad Debts was a winner. The setting is distinctly Australian, and Jack Irish is a distinctly Australian character. Even the dialogue is unmistakeably Australian.

A “hardboiled” novel with depth and character, Bad Debts is also a believable group of crimes with a believable set of motives in a distinct setting.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Peter Temple:

Born in South Africa, Peter Temple is thought of as an Australian crime fiction writer.

Formerly a journalist and journalism lecturer, Temple turned to fiction writing in the 1990s. His Jack Irish novels (Bad Debts, Black Tide, Dead Point, and White Dog) are set in Melbourne, Australia, and feature an unusual lawyer-gambler protagonist. He has also written three stand-alone novels.

He has won five Ned Kelly Awards for crime fiction. The Broken Shore also won the Crime Writers' Association Duncan Lawrie Dagger in 2007. Temple is the first Australian to win a Gold Dagger.