Twists and turns of a recession-proof business


CRIME BEAT:THE JOURNALIST Gene Kerrigan is a serial chronicler of Dublin’s criminal underworld. His third novel, Dark Times in the City(2009), was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and was the winner of the crime-fiction prize at the Irish Book Awards.

His fourth novel, The Rage(Harvill Secker, £11.99), essentially blends two stories, that of Det Sgt Bob Tidey, who is investigating the apparent suicide of a banker of dubious morality, and that of Vincent Naylor, a low-level criminal recently released from prison, who has plans to move up in the world. That the men will eventually cross paths is inevitable, although it’s Kerrigan’s quality of gritty realism that makes The Ragean enjoyable page-turner as Tidey negotiates the blind alleys of a labyrinth constructed by officious judges, corrupt lawyers and even his own superiors.

Largely recession-proof – “Bob Tidey was in the law and order business, and whatever else went belly-up there’d always be hard men and chancers and a need for someone to put manners on them” – Tidey is an empathetic character, pragmatic rather than idealistic. But what makes The Ragea compelling document of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland is Tidey’s growing awareness that the moral anarchy reigning at all levels of Irish society means that the old rules no longer apply, especially when it comes to enforcing a crude approximation of law and order by any means necessary.

SJ Watson’s debut, Before I Go to Sleep(Doubleday, £12.99), arrives trailing a host of superlative blurbs from authors such as Tess Gerritsen, Val McDermid, Lionel Shriver and Dennis Lehane, even if the novel is less a crime thriller than a psychological exploration of the impact of memory loss. A first-person account of Christine’s attempt to uncover her true identity, despite suffering from a condition that wipes out her recollection of each day when she falls asleep at night, the story belatedly becomes a tense account of Christine’s inability to trust her husband, Ben, once she has discovered tricks to aid her memory. Watson’s skill at conjuring up Christine’s condition is superb, though fans of the conventional thriller may become frustrated at the halting and overly repetitive narrative. Both elements ring true in terms of Christine’s handicap, but the combination works against the story’s pace and flow, and an overblown finale contrasts sharply with Watson’s subtle plotting until that point.

Framed by a present-day account by its narrator, Karen, Erin Kelly’s debut, The Poison Tree(Hodder, £7.99), unfolds for the most part in flashback, detailing a long hot summer in London during the early 1990s, when straight-laced language student Karen met bohemian siblings Rex and Biba. A murder, Karen tells us early on, occurred as an explosive result of the trio’s potent mixture of naivety, lust and a penchant for slumming it, so that the novel is as much a whydunnit as a whodunnit.

Kelly blends Gothic tropes with those of the crime novel, and her deployment of a rambling old house as the scene of Karen’s gradual immersion in an intoxicatingly different world, combined with the literary flourishes of her prose, is reminiscent of the work of Tana French. A writer with a keen eye for descriptive detail, Kelly neatly fleshes out her setting and characters; meanwhile, Karen’s wide-eyed innocence during her summer of love is sharply contrasted with her present-day paranoia and desperation.

Largely satisfying, The Poison Treeis a rewarding and enjoyable experience, though the ending feels unnecessarily rushed and lurid given Kelly’s prolonged and atmospheric build-up.

Mary Higgins Clark is one of the most prolific authors working in the crime field. Her latest offering, I’ll Walk Alone(Simon Schuster, £17.99), her 30th novel, sees series heroine Alvirah Meehan, the Manhattan-based, lottery-winning amateur sleuth, return. This time Meehan offers comfort to interior designer Alexandra “Zan” Moreland, who is adamant that she did not abduct her young son, Matthew, despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary.

Clark’s cosy style ensures that potentially concerned readers are made aware from very early on that Zan is indeed innocent of any wrongdoing. The story quickly becomes an exercise in laying down potential alibis for Zan, along with a trawlerful of red herrings, even as the police move in. Gentle in tone, excessively contrived in terms of plot and repetitive to the point of irritation (almost without fail, the characters preface the words they address to Moreland with “Zan . . .”), I’ll Walk Aloneshould appeal to crime fiction fans who believe Murder, She Wroteto be the epitome of the form.

A publishing phenomenon in its native Japan, Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X(Little, Brown, £12.99) is a very clever novel that explores the consequences of a murder from the perspectives of the murderer, the police investigators and the man who engages in a battle of wits with the police when he takes on the burden of ensuring that the murderer goes undetected. Central to the plot is Ishigami, a former mathematics prodigy who now works as a teacher, a cold and cerebral character whose subsumed passion for his next-door neighbour manifests itself in a genius for leading the police a merry dance away from the guilty party.

Imaginative plotting and an unadorned downbeat tone hugely enhance Higashino’s novel, the 10th of his 13 to date. It is a page-turning thriller that also functions as an exploration of the perverse anti-authoritarian impulse that lies beneath Japanese society’s ostensibly law-abiding surface. All told, it’s an erudite and quietly subversive police procedural that builds to a twisting finale that encapsulates the brutal fatalism of the great noir novels.

Declan Burke is the editor of Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century