Book vs Adaptation: BAD DEBTS

The book

I found Edward Dollary age 47, defrocked accountant, big spender and dishonest person living in a house rented in the name of Carol Pick. It was in a new brick veneer suburb built on cow pasture east of the city, one of those strangely silent developments where the average age is 12 and you can feel the pressure of the mortgages on your skin.

So begins the first of Peter Temple’s four novels featuring Melbourne-based character Jack Irish. A former criminal lawyer Jack now makes money in several ways including semi-professional gambling and debt collecting. As this book opens one of Jack’s former clients is desperate to get in touch with Jack after learning something new about the hit and run accident for which he was sent to prison. Unfortunately Jack is out of reach until it’s too late for his former client and, realising the case was one he barely remembered from the period immediately following his wife’s death, Jack feels obliged to investigate. He uncovers some very nasty political shenanigans as a result.

Jack Irish is a complex character, He has a staunchly working class background and those roots are still evident in his current world. Even as a full-time lawyer Jack was no high-flying corporate type, though he can mix easily enough in that world if he has to. But he seems more at home with the footy fans at his local pub or the ageing cabinet maker who he has turned to for woodworking lessons. His life fell apart after his wife was killed by one of his clients and he numbed the resulting pain with alcohol but when we meet him Jack is on the way back from whatever depths he fell to. Unlike many of his fellow fictional detectives Jack is not a loner, having a somewhat eclectic collection of friends and acquaintances who share some aspect of his unconventional life. His ex business partner, current gambling cronies, fellow footy fans and old contacts all form a loose circle around him and add real depth to both his life and the book.

For me the two sentences quoted above give a strong sense of what makes Temple’s crime fiction worth reading. The conciseness, the imagery and the things left unsaid often leave me re-reading passages just to savour the words and the way in which they’ve been strung together. There’s also a hint there of the very Australian-ness of these books, something which I still find impressive from someone who didn’t arrive here until he was an adult. Temple’s Australia, where blokes love footy and horse racing and their mates (though they’re more comfortable displaying the first two of those) is easily recognisable. The pervasive nature of low-level political corruption is, sadly, eerily realistic too.

The adaptation

The first two of Temple’s four-book series have been made into television movies and the first of these, BAD DEBTS, aired first in Australia on free-to-air television on 14 October (BLACK TIDE aired a week later and rumours are strong that the remaining two stories will be filmed next year). Starring Guy Pearce in the lead role and featuring a truly splendid supporting cast the adaptation falls into the faithful category; not departing significantly from its strong source material in terms of storyline or character development.

Guy Pearce might not have immediately sprung to mind when imagining the Jack Irish Temple has created for his readers, but he puts in such a good performance it only took me about six minutes to forget any lingering images floating around in my head and to believe that Pearce is Jack. He captures the humour, the awkwardness around women, the lingering guilt and sorrow over his wife’s death and the intelligence that make up Temple’s creation and he does it in a very understated way. He is very ably supported by a cast so star-studded it would probably be quicker to list great Australian actors who didn’t appear. Among the many excellent performances my personal favourites are from Roy Billing as Harry Strang, the leader of Jack’s loose gambling cartel, and Shane Jacobsen as an old-school cop (it’s a tiny role but Jacobsen steals the scenes).

The winner?

The thing I love most about the Jack Irish books is the writing so in one respect the book has to be the winner for me. While the adaptation included as much of Temple’s sardonic dialogue and brief but beautiful descriptions as it could, its very nature as a visual medium meant other elements had to take precedence over superbly crafted sentences. But I was pleased, and somewhat relieved, to find the adaptation a fitting tribute to its source material and thoroughly enjoyable in its own right and I can’t imagine any fan of the books feeling let down by the excellent adaptation. Given that even Peter Temple is happy with it (the link takes you to a local radio interview Temple gave prior to the movie’s airing) I’d say this round of Book vs Adaptation is a draw and would highly recommend that you read the book then watch the movie (at least in Australia it’s available on DVD and via the iTunes store).

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Book vs Adaptation is an irregular series of posts stemming from the fact that sometimes I’m too tired to read and so turn to DVDs and downloads. If there’s an adaptation you think I should look out for do let me know. All my posts in this series are available on their own page.

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14 thoughts on “Book vs Adaptation: BAD DEBTS

  1. Lovely assessment Bernadette, and of course, one I agree with totally. I was amused it took you to six minutes to give Guy Pearce the thumbs up as I read one interview with Peter Temple where he said it took him five minutes to do the same. I love the quality of Peter Temple’s writing, and am now rereading Broken Shore (my personal favourite), inspired as I am by the TV shows. It took 20 years for them to come to fruition, but it was worth the wait.

    • Thanks Beth. It will be interesting to see what Andrew Knight does with the screenplay for The Broken Shore which is apparently going to be filmed next year too. Knight did a good job with the two Jack Irish screenplays but Shore is a different kettle of fish.

  2. Bernadette – Excellent post for which thanks. I’m a fan of this series so it was good to see you profile one of the novels in it, and I couldn’t agree more with your discussion of the book. I’ve not seen the television series yet but I’m very happy to hear that Guy Pearce brings Jack Irish to screen successfully. I’m really hoping the series will be available soon here.

  3. I have to admit I only caught the end of this on TV as it was trending on twitter here and I was curious but I found myself really enjoying it! I’m off to order the Jack Irish novels and then I’m going to watch the 2 adaptations properly. Great comparison, it’s very easy to be disappointed by adaptations but it looks as though this one has been really well done. The cast is fab.

    • It’s very much a who’s who of Aussie actors…I actually watched it twice because the first time I was quite distracted by all the “is that so and so…” thoughts. Even Colin Hay pops up briefly!

  4. I just borrowed book one after having seen the first movie. Only caught half of the second one. It hands down beats anything that’s been produced in Australian crime recently (please not another true crime underbelly series). Pearce was good, but Aaron Pederson who I usually find wooden really shined in this the first movie.

    • LOL Sean – I thought I was the only one not into the whole Underbelly thing. I agree with you about Pederson on both counts – normally wooden but good here. Actually I thought he was fairly good in The Circuit too though it was a bit patchy from a script point of view.

      • Never really got into the Circuit, i think its possibly a combination of things good writing good direction and maturing as an actor. I like the wildman look he’s got too.

  5. Great post, Bernadette. I loved the Jack Irish adaptations. As well as some terrific casting and great performances (agree with Sean re: Aaron Pederson – more please Aunty), the script pays tribute to the genius of Temple’s writing. ‘A cabinet maker is to a Rolex what a carpenter is to a sundial,’ is just one line that stays in my memory.
    The other fun part was following the Tweetstream and as well as playing I-know-that-pub, I enjoyed watching all the old Fitzroy Football Club tragics come out of the woodwork (no pun intended). I include myself in their number.

  6. I’m looking forward to the Jack Irish adaptations when they wend their way over to the UK – it will be hard for them to beat the books, especially as you point out the prose, but I am sure they can be enjoyed independently.

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  8. Temple – one of my favourite writers bar none. Last one of his I read was Broken Shore, but I need to pick him up again soon. Like Sarah – hopefully he’ll make the journey to the small screen in the UK

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