Black Tide (publisher: Quercus) is the second in Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. Jack is a lawyer who doesn’t really practice, rather he works for therapeutic reasons for a traditional furniture maker and undertakes investigations. Occasionally he helps out at a racetrack scam operated by some other friends to help his financial situation, and his spare time is spent either with the supporters of his father’s old footy team in the local pub, or doing some solitary reading and cooking.
As Black Tide opens, Jack is doing rather a lot of this mooching about as things are not going well with Linda, the feisty TV reporter he met in Bad Debts, the previous novel. We already knew from the last book that Jack’s wife was murdered; here we learn that he had a first, brief marriage which broke up after producing a child. Presumably we will find out more in a future book. Before too long, Jack meets Des, an old friend of his father’s, who is about to have his house repossessed because Des’s son Gary has persuaded his father to sign the house over to him and has disappeared with the money. Moved by Des’s memories of his parents’ courtship, Jack starts looking for Gary in a desultory way, but gradually becomes more intrigued and entangled in an increasingly murky situation.
All the usual Peter Temple ingredients are here: the writing is fabulous, so evocative of Melbourne life as Jack knows it, poetic and spare in its mourning for the old ways that are fast being swept away by the pseudo-sophisticated and flashy, bland “multiculturalism”. Yet the book isn’t sentimental in its nostalgia – we see how the past wasn’t that great either. Another typical ingredient is that all the women Jack meets are filtered through his eyes in terms of their attractiveness – and as they all seem to be potentially susceptible to his charms it’s only a matter of time until he’s involved with one of them despite his sporadic, mainly internal, attempts to reconcile with Linda. A further trademark is the blokeish matiness between Jack and his many friends and associates, which he regularly uses to help his investigation along.
The reader might guess at the outset that the title “Black Tide” refers to the melancholy experienced by Jack as he tries and fails to come to terms with the loss of Linda and his previous wives. It doesn’t, though: eventually, the investigation of Gary’s disappearance begins to gel, and Jack’s prodigious memory for remembering every casual detail mentioned by the people he interviews, together with the help of his latest love interest (the friend of a missing journalist), Jack realises he is uncovering a vast political conspiracy involving drug-dealing, the secret service (itself riddled with double- and triple-crossers) and corruption at the highest levels — you know the kind of thing. As is so often the case with thrillers, the last section of the book is too action-packed and too full of spookily efficient, corrupt government officials to be totally engaging. But never mind, Black Tide is a great read and I am eagerly anticipating the next couple of Jack Irishes (and any more, should Peter Temple care to write them).