else to tell stories about. Now it has turned full circle and he may just be at the centre of ockerdom’s revival. THE first ABC adaptation of Peter Temple’s critically applauded Jack Irish novels went to air last week with Guy Peace as the hard-boiled private eye manque, gravely inhabited by the weight of Melbourne gloom. And it was a cracker. The second feature-length instalment, Black Tide, is airing this week and it’s just as compelling. Criminal lawyer, gambler, fixer, people-finder, debt collector and part-time cabinet-maker, the lachrymose Irish is simply one of the great brooding anti-heroes of crime fiction and watching last week reminded me how much we enjoyed discovering him in the mid-90s when he first appeared in modest, small-formatted paperback.
The novels — there were four and all are now reprinted by Text with a skulking Pearce on the covers — were potent and evocative, Temple’s classy prose crafted with a sense of Melbourne fatalism.
‘‘ Melbourne hates success,’’ Irish says in Black Tide, the second in the series of novels. ‘‘ It didn’t match the weather. Melbourne’s weather suited introspective mediocrity and suicidal failure. The only acceptable success had to involve pain, sacrifice and humility. Sydney likes the idea of success; achieved at no cost and accompanied by arrogance.’’
Maybe the Sydney big shots never warmed to Irish but, while it has taken a long time for him to find his way around TV’s mean streets, he looks as much at home there as he does in his local pub, thinking about the glory days of the Fitzroy Football Club. Last week’s Bad Debts saw him involved in the investigation of a social justice activist, taking a long and dangerous walk into the past. This week as Black Tide opens, Jack is doing a lot of mooching about as things are not going well with Linda (Marta Dusseldorp). The feisty TV reporter whom he met in Bad Debts has relocated to Sydney, moving successfully into TV news. He is, he tells Linda in a rare phone call, ‘‘ falling freely; floor looming up and all’’.
Occasionally he still helps out at a racetrack scam operated by ex-jockey Harry Strang (Roy Billing) to help his financial situation, and his spare time is spent with the supporters of his father’s old footy team in the local pub or doing some solitary reading and cooking.
But just as we think ‘‘ black tide’’ refers to Irish’s melancholy, he’s suddenly up to his neck in intrigue after Des Connors (Ron Jacobson), an old footy teammate of his father, arrives at his door wanting him to look for his difficult son, Gary (Nicholas Coghlan). He’s gone AWOL, many mysteries in his wake. Soon bad men in worse suits are taking an interest in Irish’s quest, especially the taciturn Dave (Don Hany), an obsessive federal agent heading up a clandestine operation called Black Tide. There are blackened bodies in an abandoned car at Tullamarine airport, an agent is executed in a derelict water tank and a detested white shoe BrisVegas gangster, Ricky Kirsch (Neil Melville), is moving in on Harry Strang’s territory.
Again, as with Bad Debts, I like the way writer Matt Cameron and director Jeffrey Walker have let the novels speak for themselves, elegantly and coherently with just the right sense of genre. All those involved with these productions have served Temple admirably, preserving the integrity of his novels. The approach brings us closer to the people framed so elegantly by Walker and his cinematographer Martin McGrath. Like Temple, they appreciate that plot comes out of character, and that crucial to the mystery form itself is the notion that the greatest mystery is character. They give the actors room to behave, inhabit the screen, take control, the psychic interiors of their characters slowly revealing themselves.
The acting is terrific, all the performers grabbing on to the clipped nature of Temple’s dialogue. Pearce is a wryly forlorn knighterrant, the bony-faced angularity, squinting eyes, blue stubble on his face, and his rubberlegged slouch all carrying their own grace. Billing’s avuncular but deadly Harry Strang is a pleasure to watch, his hands the size of tennis rackets just like the Harry of the novels, even if he has less hair. And Aaron Pedersen’s Cam Delray, Harry’s enigmatic foot soldier, is grand support too, one of our finest TV actors, authoritative but at the same time selfeffacing. He brings presence to every framing.
This really is finely crafted, adult-minded drama from the ABC and once again points to the vapidity of most of our feature film industry, which is still such a great disappointment to those of us who were there at its beginning. THE other night I happened to pick up an episode of the crime series Numb3rs, which Ten is using to fill late-night programming holes. You’ll have to chase it in your favourite TV guide as it’s hard to pin down. You may recall it is the show in which the protagonist is a maths professor and the series uses crime investigation techniques that delve into mathematical concepts and equations.
When Numb3rs started in 2005 — it ran for the next five years — it flummoxed reviewers, who could not believe cops could use mathematics to solve criminal cases. ‘‘ Numb3rs doesn’t add up,’’ they crowed, saying the series lacked originality and overused crimeshow banalities. ‘‘ Not another formularised cop series,’’ they moaned, not realising that the only way the idea got to air was because of the generic cliches.
The series’ co-creators, co-producers and co-writers Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton were determined to develop a prime-time program featuring mathematicians and scientists. They got nowhere until Numb3rs was conceived as a variant of the highly popular CSI franchise and famous film producers Ridley and Tony Scott became involved. It was their first venture into series TV.
Mathematics genius Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) gets involved in cracking criminal cases through his elder brother, Don (Rob Morrow), an FBI agent, replacing the forensic do-gooders of CSI, though that series has been important too in bringing science to TV. (Krumholtz pops up too in The Newsroom as a brainy psychiatrist.)
In assisting the FBI in the show, Charlie invoked the following mathematical disciplines (among others): cryptanalysis, probability theory, game theory, partial differential equations, decision theory, graph theory and data mining. To say nothing of friction circle theory, astrophysics, principal components analysis and model simulation.
Charlie brought the notion of the algorithm — that is, any set of detailed instructions that results in a predictable end state from a known beginning — into our lives. Well, he did into mine. Being able to illustrate Newton’s equations of falling bodies and his law of universal gravitation became a party trick for a while and I still love the idea of an actor becoming a star by playing a kind of metaphor, a stand-in for a body of knowledge. Which is really all Krumholtz had to do.
And it was like meeting up with old friends as I watched Charlie Eppes again scribbling numerals and signs and pumping out equations on the show’s famous chalkboard.