Tag Archives: truth peter temple

what you don’t say may be used to further your character (or is that too daggy?)

I’m preparing notes for my class talk this semester (on the mesmerising Dog Boy by Eva Hornung) and it made me realise that I never said anything good about Peter Temple’s Truth, which I struggled through last semester. I did find something to admire in it very much – an example of realistic dialogue that progresses character beautifully, by what it assumes.

The detective, Villani, is talking to his dad, Bob. Bob begins:

‘Gordie’s Gordie. Be here five minutes after Luke shows up.’

‘Doesn’t do that for me.’

‘Scared of you.’


After this exchange half a day passes, in which Villani mows the lawn and thinks a lot about the trees he and Bob planted when he was wee. Pages later they share a beer and are talking about other things.

They sat on the shady side of the house. After a while, Villani said, ‘Why’s Gordon scared of me?’

‘Bob wiped a beer tidemark from his upper lip. ‘Well, you know. People.’


Bob frowned at the landscape. ‘You’ve got a manner.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Boss manner.’

Initially Villani outright dismisses Bob’s statement that Gordie’s scared of him. The conversation moves right on from ‘Bullshit’, and we’ve no reason to think that’s not the end of it.

Almost half a day later, Villani doesn’t say ‘Is Gordie scared of me? or ‘Why did you say Gordie’s scared of me?’ His phrasing suggests not only that he hasn’t forgotten what Bob said, but that he’s been thinking it through and come to the conclusion, through his own reflection, that Bob’s right. The conversation has progressed without us.

There’s one last coda to the sequence – the next day when Villani’s leaving:

‘The finances,’ said Villani. ‘Coping?’

Bob Villani flexed his arms. ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

‘Just asking.’

‘That boss stuff,’ said Bob.

Bob refers again to Villani’s ‘boss manner’, though Villani’s behaviour is not in the context of Gordie or the other boys. What they discussed has become part of their history, and their shorthand vocabulary of expression with each other.


As my last, incredulous post shows, our novel teacher this year actually understands genre writing. This is fab. I had somehow thought that it would bleed into her selections for our reading list, too (that I wouldn’t be stuck trying to apply the techniques Sebald uses in Austerlitz to my romance novel).

Silly me. Studying genre fiction? In a serious writing course? Not even RMIT would go there.

Still, before I had been disabused of my optimism, I approached Peter Temple’s Truth thinking, “Here’s a crime novel! I suspect I have a lot of interesting things to learn from the genre, that’s applicable to my writing! I suspect it will be an engaging, invigorating read!”

Here’s the opening line:

On the Westgate Bridge, behind them a flat in Altona, a dead woman, a girl really, dirty hair, dyed red, pale roots, she was stabbed too many times to count, stomach, chest, back, face.

Before you assume it’s the violence – it’s not. It’s the fact that it took me a good couple of minutes in real time to figure out what the hell it meant. They were on the Westgate Bridge, but somehow Altona was behind them? Behind figuratively? Are they in front of the flat, but mentally on the Westgate Bridge? Has the woman maybe jumped off the Bridge but the Altona flat, her home, is there with them as a non-physical factor?


So far, I hate this book. The dialogue makes no sense, the not-dialogue is overly wordy – which my writing is, too, to be fair – but in a “these are just the facts, I draw no conclusions” kind of way. It fells very, very male, if that’s a fair thing to say. (It’s probably not.)

I assume I don’t understand the pace and rhythm of the genre. This is, most likely, what someone would feel like stumbling on a romance novel for the first time, if love wasn’t really their thing.

But honestly, would it be too much to study just one genre novel in the year? Considering the percentage of genre to literary writers in the class is more like 50, that seems more than fair.