Peter Temple’s Jack Irish on screen

Readings’ managing director Mark Rubbo takes a first look at the ABC’s forthcoming adaptation of Peter Temple’s novel, Bad Debts.


Peter Temple’s novel Bad Debts was first published in 1996. In it he introduced Jack Irish, a former criminal lawyer. Jack’s wife had been brutally killed by a deranged client who then killed himself, and in the months after her death, Jack drifted, more often than not drinking himself into a stupor until he was rescued by a partner in his former law firm. After that he dropped criminal law – doing a few jobs collecting unpaid debts, tracing people and hanging out with race fixer Harry Strang.

When Danny McKillop, a former client, tries to contact him asking for help, Jack doesn’t get the message until it’s too late, and Danny is found shot dead in a hotel car park by the police. In attempting to make amends, Jack uncovers a web of corruption and scandal reaching down from the highest levels of politics.

Temple’s Jack Irish is the quintessential outsider; his world is that of inner-city Melbourne, and the odd country race track. With extra funding for drama, the ABC has started to bring some Australian stories to the screen, starting last year with Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap and Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. In 2012, they’ve turned to Bad Debts. An advance screening at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival played to a packed house and the response was rapturous. And rightly so: it was one of the most enjoyable two hours I’ve spent in a long time.

Temple doesn’t give any description of Irish in his book, so if you’ve read Bad Debts then you’ve probably created your own image in your mind’s eye. Initially you may not have picked Guy Pearce, but he is such a fine actor that he fits very snuggly into my image of Jack. Pearce is supported by a great cast that includes Aaron Pedersen, Colin Friels, Shane Jacobson, Marta Dusseldorp, Steve Bisley, Roy Billing and many others who help shape the many pieces of this intricate underworld puzzle. Written by Andrew Knight and directed by Jeffrey Walker, it brilliantly establishes Australian noir as a genre in its own right. It’s gritty and violent but full of themes and vignettes that give it that dry and typically self-deprecating Australian sense of humour. None of it feels forced or unnatural.

It’s a visually striking production as well, and the thrill of seeing Melbourne presented so honestly and with such rough beauty adds immensely to the experience. Much of it was filmed around Fitzroy and Brunswick and these places look menacing, familiar, grungy and comforting all at the same time. Having watched the adaptation I had to go and reread Bad Debts – it’s as fresh and exciting as the adaptation. I urge you to do the same – read Bad Debts and see the adaptation when it screens soon.

Bad Debts is out now in paperback ($22.95).

mark-rubbo Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings

Bad Debts (Audio book)

Bad Debts (Audio book)

Peter Temple, Marco Chiappi

$39.95Buy now

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