Fitzroy, Varnish and Vice

September 5, 2003

Peter Temple, White Dog, Melbourne: Text, 2003.

Reviewed by Kathleen Logan

faceWhite Dog is the latest crime novel featuring Jack Irish and it’s really good fun.  Irish is a Melbourne-based ex-lawyer/private investigator with a penchant for woodwork….and trouble.

Temple clearly knows and loves Melbourne and its environs – part of the enjoyment of reading his books is recognising the various streets and situations where Irish finds humour, sex, dirty dealings and an assortment of characters like those in the “Youth Club”. The exchanges between Irish and these oldies (still lamenting the demise of their beloved football team the Fitzroy Lions) are amusing and quite sharp – particularly in the previous novels when these die-hards are tossing up whether to barrack for the Brisbane Lions or keep their local loyalties by supporting St Kilda –  not an easy choice.   Irish also hooks up on a regular basis with Harry Strang – ex-jockey with a nose for a good horse and (not quite kosher) betting arrangements.  Punters will follow the esoteric musings on track records and run times, and the rest of us can still enjoy the plot.

Jack Irish is not so lucky in love – his lovers tend to get damaged: well, that’s a bit of an understatement – one wife and one lover both lost to explosions as Jack’s enemies try to do him in – but nonetheless, he comes across as a likeable character.  He is faithful to his friends and his ideals, and he has empathy for the underdog.  His views on the changing face of Brunswick Street and its inhabitants are heartfelt and perhaps reflect those of his creator.   Jack occasionally works as an unpaid “apprentice” to a master carpenter. The finer points of cabinet-making, and the precision insisted upon by his older mentor, act as a balm and counterpoint to his unstructured and risky private investigator role.   Temple is good at establishing the close relationships Jack has with the older generation.

In this latest adventure Jack is drawn into the shady world of escort agencies, big business and politics. Murder, missing persons and a couple of truly horrible country types keep up the interest. While there’s little sub-text or social message in Temple’s novels, they are entertaining, observant and wryly nostalgic for Melbourne’s recent past.

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