The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has now reached the ninth of our tour stops. Thanks as ever to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for the skilled leadership. I’m sure that little misunderstanding about beer kegs at the last hotel can be smoothed over. Right, Kerrie? Right? While I’m waiting to hear about that, I’ll put in my contribution for this week’s stop: Peter Temple’s Jack Irish.
Irish is a former full-time attorney who more or less drowned his legal career in booze after a deeply disturbed former client murdered Irish’s beloved wife Isabel. Irish has stopped his drinking binges and although he no longer practises law on a regular basis, he has slowly begun to put his life back together. Now, Irish does private investigation and occasional legal work. His specialty is finding people who don’t want to be found either because they owe debts or because they’ve been involved in some shady business. Irish isn’t what you’d call the “punch first and ask questions later” type. In fact he’s rather reflective. But he also isn’t afraid of “the rough stuff” if matters come to that.
Irish lives and works in Melbourne and couldn’t really imagine himself happy living anywhere else. He really is quintessentially Australian. But that doesn’t mean he’s blind to Melbourne’s problems. There’s corruption, greed, crime and all of the rest of the big-city problems you’d expect of a metropolis. Here’s just one of Irish’s comments about Melbourne, taken from Black Tide:
“Melbourne hated success. It didn’t match the weather. Melbourne’s weather suited introspective mediocrity and suicidal failure. The only acceptable success had to involve pain, sacrifice and humility.”
That’s one of the appealing things about Irish’s character. He doesn’t take cases in order to prove he’s the best investigator there is. He’s too pragmatic for that. Instead, he takes cases because he thinks they need to be solved.
Another appealing aspect of Irish’s character is that he doesn’t brood and he makes no excuses for himself. For instance, in Bad Debts, Irish gets a call from a former client Danny McKillop. Eight years earlier, he’d unsuccessfully defended McKillop in a drink driving case in which political activist Anne Jeppeson was killed. Irish did a poor job of defending McKillop, who was convicted and served eight years in prison. Shortly after McKillop’s release he calls Irish and asks to meet with him. But by the time Irish responds it’s too late; McKillop’s been murdered. Here is Irish’s comment about what happens:
“At the worst time in his life Danny had needed a sober lawyer. He had got me. Years later, he had turned to me again. And I didn’t show up.”
Irish is honest with himself, but he doesn’t ruminate. Instead of wallowing in his feeling of guilt about McKillop’s death, Irish gets to work finding out the truth about who’s responsible for the murder.
Another appealing thing about Jack Irish is that he is reflective. He is certainly capable of taking action when he needs to but he isn’t in the least bit mindless. For instance, at the beginning of White Dog, his lover journalist Linda Hilliard has accepted a job in London. She explains that she doesn’t want to refuse the offer because then she’ll never know whether she could have done the job. Irish isn’t happy about it:
“‘I don’t understand that,’ I said. ‘Why shouldn’t you die not knowing? Why is that worse than dying knowing? Let’s say you’re a mountain climber, you get a chance to climb K-47, AK-47, Special K, an unusually large vertical piece of landscape. You fall off it or into a glacier, you’re going to be snap-frozen, like a baby pea. In that instant, you know. Now why is that better than…’. I felt her eyes on me. I didn’t want to risk a glance. I was driving her car, a new Alfa, much too refined a creature for someone only at home with V-8 American brutes, crude things, power without responsibility.”
Irish’s reflection isn’t always morose but the same time he usually doesn’t act without thinking.
The quote above also gives a hint of Irish’s sense of humour, another of his appealing qualities. He has a sometimes sharp sarcastic but very witty way of thinking and talking. For example, here’s a scene from Bad Debts in which Irish and Hilliard meet with a data expert as they’re following up a lead in Danny McKillop’s murder:
“Gerry Schuster was fat and that’s putting it politely. She was on a backless ergonomic kneeling contraption in an alcove created out of two computer workstations. I assumed that was what she was on. No part of what supported her was visible beneath a garishly coloured tent big enough to house four small Bedouin.
Linda said, ‘Gerry, this is Jack Irish. He’s got an interest in this stuff too.’
From beneath a greasy fringe that touched her eyebrows, Gerry gave me the look that chefs reserve for three-day-old fish. ‘Meechou,’ she said. You couldn’t have posted a five-cent coin through her lips when she spoke.”
Irish isn’t afraid to be self-deprecating in his humour either.
One of the other things that add to Irish’s appeal as a character is that he’s a “regular guy.” He’s an avid sport fan, especially football and horse racing. He’s a strong Fitzroy supporter and enjoys the time he spends with his father’s friends in the Prince of Prussia. He also enjoys the cabinetry work he does in the shop owned by his friend Charlie Taub. He’s no superhero and he doesn’t solve cases by flashes of brilliant deduction although he is intelligent. Instead, he simply goes out and does the work that it takes to put the pieces of a puzzle together.
Irish is a complicated character but he also doesn’t waste the reader’s time battling personal demons. Both Bad Debts and Black Tide make reference to Irish’s service in Vietnam. It’s affected him but he hasn’t been debilitated by it. And in Black Tide we learn a little more about Irish’s father and in the process, a little more about Irish himself and how the loss of his father has affected him. In fact, he takes and pursues the case in this novel at least in part because his father would have wanted him to take it. But he isn’t obsessed with his sense of loss. Des Connors is an old friend of Irish’s father. He asks Irish to find his son Gary, who’s disappeared with 60,000 dollars of his father’s money. As Irish begins to look into the young man’s disappearance he finds that he’s not the only one looking for Gary. He also finds that this particular case is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Jack Irish is an interesting and complicated character; yet he’s not haunted by personal demons. He’s a down-to-earth “regular guy” who’s bright, dogged and funny too. If I had a case for a private investigator, he’d be a top choice.
Go, Roys, make a noise!