In Peter Temple’s eighth novel, The Broken Shore, Joe Cashin, a homicide detective who has been temporarily reassigned to his hometown of Port Monro while he recovers from a violent incident in Melbourne that left his partner dead, hopes to lead a quiet life while using painkillers and alcohol to dull his physical and emotional pain. He is completely unprepared for the furor that ensues when Charles Bourgoyne, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, is attacked in his own home and left for dead. The only notable item missing from Bourgoyne’s house is his expensive wristwatch, and when three teenaged Aboriginal boys try to pawn a similar watch in Sydney, the authorities consider the incident to be an open-and-shut case.
Cashin soon realizes that the case is anything but routine, however. When the police in Cromarty, the town nearest to Port Monro, attempt to apprehend the suspects, the vehicle driven by Cashin and an Aboriginal detective named Paul Dove develops mysterious engine trouble. Cashin’s subsequent orders to abort the mission are either not heard or ignored by Rick Hopgood, a Cromarty detective who seems quite hostile to Cashin, especially when he learns that Cashin’s cousins are part Aborigine. A deadly shoot-out results, leaving two of the three boys dead, including the nephew of Bobby Walshe, an up-and-coming Aboriginal politician who immediately begins to portray the boys as innocent minority victims of a corrupt police force. The surviving boy, Donny Coulter, jumps bail after alleged police harassment and apparently commits suicide; his body turns up in the Rip, or the rough waters off the Broken Shore, a jagged and dangerous stretch of Victoria coastline.
Because the victim and the alleged perpetrators are now dead, Cashin is ordered to back off the investigation, but small details, seemingly unrelated to the case, make him uneasy. He learns, for instance, that a real estate developer had been dealing with Bourgoyne in order to purchase the land that provides the only access to some waterfront property under consideration. In addition, Bourgoyne’s stretch of land had been home to the Companions Camp, a nonprofit organization that provided camping opportunities for troubled city youth before it mysteriously burned down in the early 1980’s, killing three young boys.
The details of the case, revealed at a careful pace, are skillfully interwoven with Cashin’s ongoing struggles with his own personal demons. When his brother Michael, a successful businessman in Melbourne, tries to commit suicide, Cashin tries to show his brother the kind of familial support that Michael was unable to muster when Cashin himself was in the hospital. Now vulnerable, Michael reveals to his brother that he is gay. Although Cashin is surprised by this news, he is far more distressed to learn that their own father’s death years before was suicide, which everybody else apparently knew. Michael believes that his suicidal tendencies are a legacy from their father, causing Cashin to question his own mental health as well.
Cashin is also uncomfortable in his attraction to Helen Castleman, the attorney who represented Donny Coulter until the boy died. Helen and Cashin had shared a kiss in their high school days, and Cashin has always thought of her as the unattainable ideal woman. In spite of a border dispute over their neighboring properties, Helen now seems to be open to a possible relationship, and Cashin is uncertain how to proceed, particularly because Helen believes that the police knowingly killed all three Aboriginal boys. She urges Cashin to investigate further, and Cashin, angry because he knows Helen may be right, argues with her in spite of himself.
Ironically, the most stable influence in Cashin’s life during this tumultuous period is an itinerant who goes by the name Dave Rebb. Cashin meets Rebb in the first few pages of the book, when...
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