Saturday, October 13, 2007

Those Challenging Modern Neighbors to the English Country House Mysteries

For differing reasons, I read all the Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine and Colin Dexter crime novels I can lay hands on. I find that the friendships within the books offer, for me, a good balance to the darkness of the crimes and evil that each author lays bare. It's a far cry from the Agatha Christie English country house style.

One of our Kingdom Books "regulars" also turned us on to a Scottish (Glasgow) writer whose work we'd somehow missed -- William McIlvanney. In Scotland he's noted as a literary author, but his three works of crime fiction create a set of characters and memorable neighborhoods. Wikipedia notes that "Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991) are crime novels featuring Inspector Jack Laidlaw. Laidlaw is considered to be the first book of Tartan Noir, despite the author calling the genre "ersatz"."

And then there are the Irish... in fact, this spring when Europa Editions released Gene Kerrigan's THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR (second crime novel of another literary figure, this one from Dublin), I lost two days of other work because I couldn't put the book down. Rereading it draws up the insistent contrasts of wealth and desperation, law breaking and family attachment, career policing and career politics. Although the book is set up as a sequence of "tales" of Irish detection and corruption, they're smoothly linked and compelling. From gang leader Lar MacKendrick and his murdered brother Jo-Jo, to Detective Inspector Synott's blind pursuit of a rape suspect, to the conundrum of a jumper from a rooftop who is apprehended by Detective Joe Mills but who refuses to explain the dried blood all over him, there are unexpected strands of connection. Here's an excerpt:

Detective Garda Rose Cheney finished typing up a long-overdue report on a child abuse case just in time to leave for the courts. The way traffic was, it meant adding half an hour to the usual driving time, just in case. Better that a copper be an hour early than keep a judge waiting half a minute. She pulled on a jacket and was reaching for her handbag when her mobile rang. The caller introduced himself as a detective from Earlsfort Terrace. "You're dealing with an alleged rape, I'm told?"

"Who said?"

"A colleague mentioned it, knew I'd an interest, put me onto you. The name of the alleged rapist is Hapgood, I'm told?"

"You know him?"

"We should talk."

Kerrigan is an award-winning journalist; he's writing the streets and conflicts of modern Dublin as he's lived with them. His first crime novel was the deeply disturbing Little Criminals. Looks like he's on a roll... This book goes on the shelf with space next to it for Kerrigan's future efforts.

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