Investigators on the inside with an outsider’s perspective
Year of the Brighton bombing: Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone is set in 1984, and Margaret Thatcher casts a long shadow over the events in it. photograph: PA
A Catholic officer in the RUC during the 1980s, Sean Duffy is an insider with an outsider’s perspective, that classic staple of the crime novel. Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone (Serpent’s Tail, €18.75) follows on from The Cold, Cold Ground (2012) and I Hear the Sirens in the Street (2013), both of which were set in Northern Ireland and had for their backdrops the hunger strikes and the DeLorean affair, respectively.
Margaret Thatcher, the late British prime minister, casts a long shadow over the events of In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, which is set in 1984, the year of the Brighton bombing. Never fully trusted by his RUC colleagues, Duffy is further ostracised when an old classmate, an IRA man named Dermot McCann, escapes from the Maze prison and rumours begin to circulate about an impending IRA “spectacular”.
Duffy’s pursuit of the elusive McCann provides the narrative spine for this compelling thriller, McKinty’s 10th crime title, with Duffy encountering spooks, killers and civilians sympathetic to “the cause” as he tries to navigate a bewildering hall of mirrors constructed from Northern Ireland’s myriad hidden agendas. Not content with constructing a complex plot, McKinty further wraps his story around a deliciously old-fashioned “locked room” mystery, the solution to which holds the key to Duffy’s entire investigation. Driven by McKinty’s brand of lyrical, hard-boiled prose, leavened by a fatalistic strain of the blackest humour, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone is a hugely satisfying historical thriller.
Dust (Little, Brown, €11.50) is Patricia Cornwell’s 21st novel to feature Kay Scarpetta, the medical examiner who blazed a trail for crime-fiction heroines when she debuted in Postmortem, in 1990.
Here Scarpetta is called to the scene of the murder of a young woman, Gail Shipton, whose body has been discovered in the grounds of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There Scarpetta is joined by her husband, the FBI profiler Benton Wesley, who suspects that Shipton is the latest victim of a serial killer at large in the Washington DC area who is the focus of an ongoing investigation.
Scarpetta’s own investigation of Shipton’s murder runs parallel to Wesley’s, and Cornwell’s fans won’t be surprised to learn that Scarpetta’s extensive supporting cast are personally involved. Her former lead investigator, Pete Marino, now returned to policing, is also investigating Shipton’s murder; her niece Lucy had been involved with Shipton until their business dealings turned sour.
The pacing is slow, the list of suspects rather limited for a whodunnit, and the twists and turns are sparsely scattered, in part because Cornwell devotes long passages to bringing fans up to date on the latest developments in the ongoing soap opera of Scarpetta’s life. If you’re a dedicated fan you’ll find much to enjoy in Dust, but newcomers wondering what the fuss is all about should begin with Cornwell’s earlier, groundbreaking novels.
Eva Dolan’s debut, Long Way Home (Harvill Secker, €21.50), opens in Peterborough with the discovery of a charred corpse in the burnt-out shed of a suburban home. When the victim is discovered to be a migrant worker from eastern Europe, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira of the hate-crimes unit are called in. It’s a fascinating set-up: Zigic and Ferreira are operating in a town with a large but transitory population of migrant workers from all over eastern Europe, but the language barrier is the least of their problems, as most of the migrants have arrived illegally and have no wish to speak with the police, even if they could.
Long Way Home offers a compelling plot as the police officers attempt to penetrate the silence that surrounds the fatal arson attack, but Dolan offers much more than a deftly crafted police procedural.
As is the case with McKinty’s Sean Duffy, Zigic – born in Britain to Polish parents – and the Portuguese-born Ferreira are both insiders with an outsider’s take on their culture: their own experience of xenophobia chimes with the experiences of recently arrived migrants, while their investigation burrows under the skin of the apparently prosperous local economy to uncover slave labour, people trafficking and shocking brutalities. An absorbing, provocative tale, Long Way Home is an exceptional debut.
The Silent Wife (Headline, €14.99) is another debut, although, sadly, ASA Harrison died shortly before her novel was published. The story is told through the eyes of Jodi and Todd, a married couple living in Chicago who are going through a tumultuous period in their relationship, particularly as the womanising Todd, now a successful businessman who chases much younger women, appears to have forgotten all the sacrifices Jodi made as he struggled to establish himself.
Jodi, who works part-time as a psychotherapist in their plush apartment home, seems to take it all in her stride; but as a proponent of Jung, Jodi understands better than most that her calm exterior masks a potentially lethal unconscious. “An inner situation that is not made conscious will manifest in outward events as fate,” Jodi tells us, which conveys the noirish inevitability of the doom the protagonists move towards as the story unfolds.
Harrison’s precise and formal use of language is entirely appropriate for Jodi, and adds considerably to the chilly horror of the way she proposes to solve the dilemma brewing in her subconscious.
Hailed as the latest example of “marriage noir”, The Silent Wife is a considerably more sophisticated novel than Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, with which it has been compared. Men may object that Todd is rendered a cartoonishly boorish character at times in order to garner sympathy for Jodi’s actions, but, that caveat aside, The Silent Wife is a gripping psychological thriller.
Declan Burke’s new novel, Crime Always Pays, is out next month.