Doggedly indefatigable Good confronts irrepressible Evil. Again.
Old Testament imagery, suburban noir and a murdered monk all feature in the latest batch of crime novels
Clifford crafts a tense tale as he braids together his headline-friendly plotlines, but where he excels is in characterisation. Karen and Nix are joined by Kevin, previously a prosperous builder-developer who now owes a debt to Nix, and by Dara Burns, a blues-loving gangland enforcer with a vacuum for a soul.
As with his fellow author and journalist Gene Kerrigan, Clifford’s characters aren’t simplistically defined as criminal or civilian, legal or illegal; for the most part, they are ordinary people in difficult circumstances, doing whatever it takes to keep their heads above water. The result is a compellingly fatalistic tale of desperation, double-cross and inevitable murder.
The Beautiful Mystery (Sphere, €11.50) is the eighth in Canadian author Louise Penny’s series of novels to feature Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Summoned to the remote monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, Gamache discovers that one of the monks has been brutally murdered – a particularly surprising crime, given that the monks have very recently become world famous for their inspiring plainchant music.
On one level a classic “locked room” mystery – Gamache immediately understands that the murderer can only be one of the monks – the novel is also influenced by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a literary detective story in which a book provided both motive and murder weapon.
Here the killer’s motive revolves around “the beautiful mystery” of music, and particularly its earliest incarnation in Gregorian chant. Penny deftly contrasts the divine worship of plainchant with the rather more squalid details of human desire for power and influence. She is a highly decorated author, and The Beautiful Mystery is a pleasingly ambitious novel for a writer who might, at this point in her career, be tempted to rest on her laurels.
The pace may be sedate, and the body-count very low, but this is a novel that places its faith in characterisation, atmosphere and the endlessly fascinating psychology of the human mind.