This is a welcome sequel to BAD DEBTS, the introductory novel to what hopefully will be an extremely long run of books featuring Jack Irish, a suburban solicitor (a lawyer, though it's a bit more complicated than that) with a practice representing some rather dubious but nonetheless likable characters in Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne isn't the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of potential settings for crime fiction, but I think that with the publication of BLACK TIDE and BAD DEBTS, that will change quickly.
BLACK TIDE finds Irish involved in a matter somewhat tenuously linked to the father he never knew. Irish receives a call from Des Connors, a rather crusty character who was a friend of the elder Irish and may well be his last surviving pal. In a nice bit of irony, Connors hires Irish to locate his son Gary, who has gone missing, along with a substantial sum of money that Gary had borrowed from Des. Irish starts digging around and finds out soon enough that Gary has some very dangerous folks after him. These same people are soon pursuing Irish, but for cross-purposes; some want him to quit looking for Gary because he is uncovering things that they would rather keep hidden, while others want Irish to keep looking so he can lead them straight to Gary. None are particularly interested in Irish's well-being, and Irish accordingly must rely on his wits as well as his network of friends.
The impetus behind Gary going missing and the mad hunt for him, along with Irish's involvement, requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, which the author, blessedly, is well aware of; one of my favorite parts of the novel comes when Irish asks himself how he could have gotten into a situation of such danger and complexity. Temple, however, is a masterful and entertaining wordsmith and storyteller, and one can pick up the meaning behind the occasional obscurity within the context of the narrative more often than not. There is also some wonderful dry humor here --- Temple had me simultaneously laughing and choking by the time I reached just the second page --- and in the middle of a funeral scene, no less.
But BLACK TIDE is not a comedic novel, nor is it for the faint of heart. There is a real water cooler moment near the end of the book, for example, wherein one of the bad guys gets his comeuppance in a singularly memorable if gruesome fashion. I've been reading this genre for a long time, and I thought I'd seen it all. I was wrong.
In the short space of two novels Jack Irish has shouldered his way toward the front of the pack of crime fiction protagonists. And --- joy! --- there are two additional volumes already in print that American readers have yet to see. It is good to have so much to anticipate. Let us hope the wait isn't long.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010