The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is getting closer to the end of the journey – only six more stops to go after this one! Thanks to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, the tour’s been going very smoothly, except of course for all those unexpected book purchases *sigh*. Today we’re stopping in T-ville, and everyone’s getting ready to take a look round the shops. But I think I’ll stay here, unpack and share my contribution for this week: Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest.
Emily Tempest is an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) who comes from a half-White/half-Aborigine background. She grew up in the small Moonlight Downs Aborigine encampment but left it for several years. In Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs) she comes back to her home and her return shows her that in some ways she never really left it. Here for instance is her thought about re-uniting with her good friend Hazel Flinders, who never left the community:
‘…she’d stayed put, absorbed the strength of country, while I’d been drifting about like a boat that slipped its moorings.’
Tempest is very closely connected to her community and her knowledge of that community and the people in it make her appealing. Through Tempest’s eyes we get to see the members of the Moonlight Downs community as individual people rather than just as members of some amorphous group.
Through Tempest we also get to see how the members of this community live, what they believe and what their traditions are and that makes her character appealing. She has a spiritual side that she doesn’t ignore and a deep love of the land. For instance, in Gunshot Road, it’s her strong sense that something is very wrong that leads her to pursue the investigation of the murder of former prospector Albert “Doc” Ozolins. On the surface it looks as though his death was the tragic result of a drunken quarrel, but Tempest has a real sense of unease about that explanation. So against her boss’ wishes, she follows that instinct and starts to look for the truth.
In both Diamond Dove and Gunshot Road we also see Tempest’s respect for traditional ways. For instance, in Diamond Dove Tempest gets involved in the murder of Moonlight Downs leader Lincoln Flinders, who is also Hazel’s father. It looks on the surface as though he was murdered by a local sorcerer Blakie Japanangka. And since Japanangka has since disappeared, no-one can really question him. But Tempest doesn’t think it’s that simple and she begins to look for another explanation for the murder. At one point in the novel, she’s returned to the Moonlight Downs camp only to that it’s virtually empty and that there’ve been two killings. One of her main concerns is the whereabouts of her friend Hazel, so she starts searching:
‘I took them via the Long Yard shortcut, but the track faded into a faint set of wheel marks, then disappeared altogether in a patch of whippet grass…
A little further on, at the northern gate, I picked out the first foot print. Not just any foot print, the foot print, the only one in the world I knew at a glance. The crack in the heel, the long skating arch.
‘She’s been here!’ I cried. ‘We’re on the right track!’’
It’s not that Tempest doesn’t recognise the value of modern approaches to detection, but she knows that where she lives, they don’t always make practical sense.
And that’s another appealing aspect of Tempest’s character. She’s very practical and she’s no respecter of money and privilege. To her, finding out the truth matters more than following a policy does, especially if that policy doesn’t make any sense in a given situation. On one hand, that often gets her into trouble. Tempest doesn’t always respect authority and she herself admits that she has difficulty keeping her mouth shut when it would be more prudent to do so. And yet, she’s got a lot of strength and dignity. She doesn’t kowtow to anyone.
Tempest may have what people call rough edges, but she also has a compassionate side. In Gunshot Road for instance, she shows real compassion for fifteen-year-old Danny Brambles, who’s had a difficult life. When he’s caught stealing an MP3 player from a store it’s Tempest who arranges for it to be returned intact. Then Danny’s grandmother and Tempest agree that the best thing for Danny is to go back to his people’s encampment and Tempest takes it on herself to escort him there. It turns out that Danny is important to solving the mystery of Doc Ozolins’ death, but that’s not why Tempest takes an interest in him. She does so because she cares about him.
One of the other appeals of Tempest’s character is that she’s willing to admit that she’s not perfect. She doesn’t listen to others when it would behoove her to pay attention to what they say. She has a tendency to get herself and sometimes others into trouble because of it too. But she doesn’t blame others for the mistakes she makes and she has enough integrity and courage to apologise. For instance, in Diamond Dove, she misjudges one of the other characters, thinking that person is responsible for Lincoln Flinders’ murder. Later she has to face the fact that she was wrong and that her mistake led to that character’s death:
‘I came across ____….got the wrong idea. Like I been doing lately. Well, I ran, ___followed.’
Tempest’s willingness to confront her own imperfections and get on with life is a refreshing aspect of her personality.
So is her sense of humour. She has a sometimes-sarcastic way of looking at life, and that adds a welcome lift to the novels that feature her. Here, for instance, from Gunshot Road, is Tempest’s opinion of gruel:
‘Never was quite sure what the word gruel meant – now I know. It’s a combination of glue and cruel.’
Her humour can be self-deprecating and that too is appealing; she doesn’t take herself overly seriously.
Emily Tempest may be a little impulsive and not one to take orders. But she’s smart, skilled, resourceful and compassionate. And she is deeply imbued with respect for the land without being preachy about it. Little wonder she’s become so popular. Erm, Mr. Hyland, if you’re reading this, we’re waiting for the next Emily Tempest investigation…