The Red Hand

Written by Peter Temple

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

The Red Hand
riverrun imprint Quercus Publishing
RRP: £20
Released: January 23 2020

This unusual book takes a melancholic glance into the rear-view mirror of an extraordinary writer. It is the Omega of an Alpha talent in crime-writing and also showcases literary commentary that is as incisive, as it is illuminating.

The late Peter Temple was a former South African teacher and journalist who [following a short period in Germany], settled in Australia, making that country his adopted home.

He passed away in 2018, leaving behind a legacy of four highly acclaimed novels featuring that singular character Jack Irish, and five stand-alone novels as well as concise literary criticism [and journalism] that took a scalpel to the craft of writing. He rejoiced in the beauty of reading as evidenced in his essay “Remembrance of Books Past’, a piece of writing [included in The Red Hand] that celebrates the joy of being a bibliophile.

The Red Hand is a love letter to [and from] Peter Temple, with appeal to his past and future readers, as well as his fellow writers, be they journalists, novelists or people who just love books. The anchor to this volume is a meaty fragment of his last [and unfinished] Jack Irish novel, which was tentatively titled ‘The Light on the Hill’ but is presented here as ‘High Art’; which is apt as his crime-writing output could easily be labelled with either of those turn of phrase.

It also contains some short stories, as well as non-fiction observations and literary criticism that are a joy to read, and in some cases to be re-read.

It opens with an elegiac  introduction ‘A Charismatic Curmudgeon’, written by his Australian publisher Michael Heyward, which is amusing and foreshadows what follows. I applauded Heyward and his company, Text Publishing [as well as Jon Riley, Temple’s British Publisher] releasing the last Jack Irish novel incomplete, foregoing the commercial temptation in having it posthumously concluded by another hand. The appearance of Jack Irish opens with a startling sentence, "Joe Mirvic made many marks on society, all of the kind that grew scar tissue." This large fragment of the novel’s opening is to be read for its language and economy of style, though the narrative is one that intrigues, especially as it leaves the proceedings without a conclusion; akin to the untidy nature of life and death.

After putting down ‘High Art’; its story left unresolved, it is of little wonder that Peter Temple’s novel ‘The Broken Shore’ was awarded the 2007 Crime Writers Association’s Gold Dagger Award, in London.

This cornucopia is book-ended by Temple’s amusing screenplay ‘Valentine’s Day’ which was adapted and broadcast on Australian television to much acclaim.

In-between, we have essays and short fiction that highlight Temple’s skill as a writer. His reflections upon practitioners Conan Doyle, Chandler, Le Carre, Lee Burke, Christie, James Ellroy, Thomas Harris among others are elegant, never fawning nor mean-spirited – purely insightful.

This book will not only enlighten those who have read his work, but will draw attention to his short [but powerful] backlist, for those yet to discover his legacy, one that showcased crime-fiction as a literary art-form.   

He was quoted in an obituary in The Guardian

“What is more at the heart of social life than the crime against the person? I see it as an excuse for beginning the narrative. It has its own logic and relentless drive. It is a reason for things to happen and for the way characters behave.”


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