Although Peter Temple’s Shooting Star has only this year been published in the UK (by Quercus), it was first published in Australia in 1999. Since then, this wonderful author has written most of his Jack Irish series, the award-winning The Broken Shore, and other excellent novels. So although I found Shooting Star an absorbing and satisfying read, it has a slightly raw (but addictive) air, containing several themes and characters that emerge in more confident, developed form in later books.
The story of Shooting Star is at its heart simple, although many twists and complications are wrapped around it which require reader concentration. A teenager, Anne Carson, has been kidnapped from a music store after school. The girl’s family is extremely rich, and eager to comply with the ransom demand in the light of a similar experience 10 years ago, when another woman from the same family, Alice, was also kidnapped. On that occasion, the family turned to the police despite being told not to by the villains, and had regretted it. This time, determined not to mess about, they call upon Frank Calder, an ex-cop and ex-soldier, who is now a private “mediator”.
The story is told from Frank’s perspective, hence he spends some time working out who’s who in the complicated Carson dynasty, what actually happened to Alice (nobody wants to talk about it), and where everyone is now. Along the way, the reader picks up hints about the mosaic of Frank's own life. As time goes on, several family members are either missing or seem to justify suspicion, or both; I think my favourite moment in the book is Frank’s hot pursuit of one of them to an abandoned warehouse – with embarrassing results.
I love all Peter Temple’s books, and this one is no exception. The author is particularly strong at describing the nuances of social interactions and the emotion under the surface; some of his characterisations (Alice, for example) are beautifully subtle. Frank’s an interesting character in development; perhaps we might find out some more about him in future. Shooting Star isn’t Peter Temple’s best book, but it is still heaps better than most in the genre. Although the ending has a slightly “rabbit out of a hat” air, it packs a powerful punch. It is a very (surprisingly) bleak, ultimately unsentimental story, told well, with pace and emotional sensitivity.