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24th of April 2018


Escape From Reality: A Thriller That has Nothing to do With Current Events -

——Johannesburg, 2 PM on a weekday. Here is Niemand, no first name. He’s working out. Inside. “Outdoors had become trouble, like being attacked by three men, one with a nail-studded piece of wood.” Niemand is no victim: “The trouble had cut both ways: several of his attackers he had kissed off quickly.”

Niemand, we are told, “didn’t get any pleasure in killing.” Which hasn’t stopped him — Peter Temple takes a page to recount three killings on his scorecard. You’ll have no problem agreeing with Niemand’s actions.

Now we’re on page three. An aging Mercedes — actually, a new one, hidden under an old, rusting, dented body — picks Niemand up. We meet Mkane, his partner. They’re on personal protection work today, collecting a woman at a shopping center and making sure she gets safely home.

She does. Niemand and Mkane check the house out. Thoroughly: “There was one vehicle in the garage, a black Jeep four-wheel-drive. A camera at floor level showed no one hiding beneath it.” Rather extreme precautions, you think. What kind of world is this that requires “every cupboard, every wardrobe” to be checked?

The woman drinks champagne. Niemand “holstered his pistol, didn’t feel relaxed.” Her husband arrives, scorning Niemand’s black partner. Niemand looked up, “saw something on the ceiling behind him, something at the edge of his vision, a dark line not there before….The man in the ceiling pushed open the inspection hatch…”

Carnage. Out of nowhere. With hot blood and screaming and guns that don’t work and then do, and bodies, bodies everywhere. In the silence that follows, Niemand inspects the husband’s briefcase: envelopes, papers, a video cassette. The phone rings. He answers. The papers? The tape? Yes, Niemand has them. Will he bring them out? Yes, but how much? “Twenty thousand. And expenses.” And he’s off to London….

And so ends chapter one. Take a breath. Your first in a while. Turn the page.

Now you’re in…Hamburg. In the office of W&K. Once it was a publisher. Its current business is information — “looking for people, checking on people.” In the modern way: six computer terminals, a state-of-the-art mainframe. Very amoral. Find an address, turn it over. A couple is reconciled. Or maybe the husband, upset by the way she drained the bank account before fleeing to France, kills her. It’s all the same to W&K.

A former journalist works here; eventually, you know that whatever is on the cassette will come to involve him. “Eventually” is a long time coming. Temple writes real characters, and they have their stories, their frustrating days, their troubled nights. Plot points drop like Hansel’s bread crumbs in the forest. But what’s the rush? Every paragraph has a jolt of pleasure. [To buy a new paperback from Amazon is a mistake; it’s only sold by third-parties, and there’s no free shipping. Suggestion: if you want a physical book, buy it used. To do that on Amazon, click here. Stronger suggestion: For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Like a man remembering his wife: “…the day Lana drove the Mustang under a car transporter on Highway 401 outside Raeford, North Carolina, 1:45 in the afternoon. She was alone, leaving a motel, lots of drink taken.”

Like a description of Hamburg: “The sky was an army blanket, dirty grey.”

Like the sudden menace on a phone: “Sonny, deal with me or deal with the devil. There’s much worse coming up behind me. I’m the good cop. You want to walk away from this f**ken Waco you created, get the f**k out. And wherever you go, get on your knees every morning noon and f**ken night and pray the Lord to take away the mark on your f**ken forehead.”

Like the repartee, this time about a courier: “They say Ollie North used him” gets, as a riposte, “You wouldn’t want that to be the high point of your career.”

Notice I’m not telling you the plot — I’m no spoiler. But you get the mood of this piece. You and I, we walk down the street not especially worried about the people coming our way. In this book, paranoia rules. Anyone coming toward you could have been hired to kill you. Which makes every moment distressingly intense.

Who is Peter Temple? Born in South Africa. Now lives in Australia. Was once a journalist. (It shows. His prose is tight as a noose.) Taught journalism in Australia. Edited a magazine. And, finally, chucked it to write novels. He’s done seven so far, four about a detective named Jack Irish. And he’s won four Ned Kelly Awards in Australia, more than any other author. As the President of his North American Fan Club, I especially commend Truth to you.

Will “Identity Theory” be your first Peter Temple book? Lucky you. It won’t be your last. But just as nothing is as sweet as a first kiss, no Temple novel may thrill you more than “Identity Theory.”

—Previously published on The Head Butler.

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