Watching the detectives’ styles
Declan Burke rounds up the new crime fiction
As with Vargas, readers who prefer a conventional narrative might find themselves a little frustrated by the wilfully opaque storytelling, as in the following not-untypical quote: “A clue is a word in another language, and mysteries speak the language of dreams. Mysteries speak the alchemical language of the birds.” But readers who crave a self-consciously poetic variation on the classic crime novel will find much to enjoy here.
Set in Moscow in the 1930s, The Twelfth Department (Mantle, €15.99) is the third outing for William Ryan’s increasingly impressive Captain Korolev series. Korolev, a police investigator, is co-opted by the NKVD when a scientist with strong political connections to the party (and possibly Stalin himself) is shot dead, but his task – complicated by the disappearance of his young son, Yuri – becomes a wander through a metaphorical hall of mirrors where notions such as truth and justice mean whatever the party wants them to mean.
There’s an Orwellian influence to the manipulation of language and meaning in The Twelfth Department, while Korolev’s quest to uncover the “facts” of his investigation ensures that he soon resembles a pawn kicked around the board by warring superiors.
The geographical setting and political backdrop are compelling enough, but Korolev is a fascinating character in his own right, an army veteran of “the German War” who acknowledges the poisonous nature of the regime he serves even as he clings to the hope that its propaganda might some day chime with reality.
The winner of the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year award in 2012, for The End of the Wasp Season, Denise Mina returns with The Red Road (Orion, €14.99), the fourth in her series of Glasgow-set novels to feature Det Insp Alex Morrow. A pragmatic woman who bitterly resents the overlap of her personal and professional lives (the fact that her half-brother is a notorious Glasgow gangster causes her no end of grief), Morrow is delivering evidence in court when she discovers that her case tangentially touches on another murder, one with roots in 1999, when a young girl knifed two men to death on the same night.
A brilliantly plotted tale that segues between past and present, The Red Road is a “tartan noir” police procedural to rival Ian Rankin’s best work, as Mina blends the harsh realities facing Glasgow’s underprivileged kids with the salubrious world inhabited by the city’s legal and financial wizards. The chief appeal, however, is Alex Morrow herself, a meticulously crafted character of depth and substance who succeeds in a patriarchal environment by virtue of her intelligence, persistence and humanity.
Declan Burke is an author and journalist. His most recent novel is Slaughter’s Hound, published by Liberties Press.