Yes, I’m reviewing books 1, 3 and 4 of a series, and one that really should be read in order. But I picked these up in my usual cheapskate way – tempted by some kind of Kindle Deal too good to refuse, and I’d already seen the TV movies, so I wasn’t too fussed that I read them out of order (3, then 4, then 1) and don’t have 2 yet.
Jack Irish (played by Guy Pearce on TV) is a former criminal lawyer, still technically a lawyer, who now makes most of his money in more shady ways, collecting debts, finding people, and participating in horse racing shenanigans, along with ex-jockey Harry and his fixer Cam. In between dodgy dealings he takes meditative pleasure in working with master cabinetmaker Charlie Taub, the smell of the wood and the glue banishing even his darkest thoughts, a therapy that brought him back from self-destruction after his wife was murdered by an angry client.
Bad Debts picks up Jack’s life in the mid ’90s, a decade on from when his life was blown up. Dan McKillop, a client from Jack’s darkest days when he was rarely sober, is out of jail having served his sentence for a hit-and-run, and has left a message on his answering machine wanting to meet. Jack gets the message late, only to learn that Dan was shot by police at the time and place they were to meet.
As he follows up their missed connection, Jack begins to suspect that Dan may have been framed. Driven by guilt he follows the tangled threads of the case – the eye witness who placed Dan at the scene of the crime, the victim who was a thorn in the side of powerful people, and the police, who shot Dan and may have been using him as an informer. His pursuit of the truth brings journalist Linda Hillier (played by Marta Dusseldorp on TV) into his orbit. Linda has her own professional interest in some of the powerful people circling at the edges of the web Jack is becoming entangled in, and quickly becomes very interested in Jack.
Dead Point is similar territory, a few years on when Linda has moved into talk radio and out of Jack’s orbit. While looking for the crims who hijacked the proceeds of Harry’s latest betting plunge, Jack is hired to find a part-time bartender who turns up dead. As Jack digs deeper into the bartender’s past he finds himself in another tangle of secrets that powerful men are willing to kill to keep buried. Like many a lonely man, Jack also makes a few calls to his favourite radio show.
White Dog is the final Jack Irish chapter, as Peter Temple is no longer with us. Unusually for Jack, he is hired for an actual criminal law case, to defend an artist accused of murdering her former lover sho had taken up with her sister. On the surface she looks guilty as hell, but nothing is what it first seems to be in a Jack Irish novel.
Overall, these are great examples of character-driven crime fiction. Jack is a well-constructed and well-connected example of a first-person detective narrator, holding the reader’s interest as he carries the story forward. As the son of a professional footballer he has an easy connection with sport-loving Aussie blokes, along with the smalltime to middling criminal clients from his real lawyering days. School connections paid for by his mother’s wealthy family and Charlie Taub’s elite clientele allow him to easily mix with the top end of town. The setting of Melbourne is equally well-drawn, focussing on the gentrifying formerly working class inner North where Jack lives, works and plays, with added colour from trips to the Victorian countryside.
The TV movies based on the books and later series of new material are also worth a look and are very well cast.