Crime Fiction:Playwright and co-founder of the Rough Magic theatre company Declan Hughes first turned his hand to prose fiction last year with a well-received crime novel, The Wrong Kind of Blood,featuring private investigator Ed Loy, who returns for a second outing in this energetic and pacy thriller, which manages to combine the seedier elements of gangland Dublin with the supposed sophistication of the southside elite, while questioning which of the two is the more corrupt, the one that wears its criminality on its sleeve or the one that masks its duplicity with a veneer of wealth and privilege.
The Colour of Blood By Declan Hughes John Murray, 352pp. £12.99.
Loy has been hired by Shane Howard, the patriarch of a wealthy, medical-based family, to locate his missing teenage daughter Emily, naked photos of whom, engaged in a threesome, have been posted to him along with a blackmail notice. The novel confounds genre expectations early on when Emily, around whom the reader supposes the story will be built, is quickly discovered and returned to the safety of her home; however, her private life, which involves incest and performing in porn movies, is exposed and coincides with the brutal murder of her ex-boyfriend, a school rugby star who acted as her film director.
The Howards are a thoroughly objectionable family, looking down on the rest of Dublin from their comfortable hilltop homes, while interacting with each other through a veil of barely disguised contempt. Of course, these are prototypes of a particular type of fiction, the spoiled middle-aged gentry, devoid of emotion, living in each others' pockets, unconcerned whether they reach for a whiskey or a gun. It's not far removed from soap opera; think the Ewings of Dallas relocated to Exit 13 off the M50 and you probably have the idea.
CRIME THRILLERS SUCHas this succeed or fail based on two criteria: the pace of the story-telling and whether or not the reader maintains sympathy with the hero. There's no question that the action moves on impressively from chapter to chapter and Hughes never allows himself to get stuck too long in one strand of the plot when there are others with which to reconnect. And the characters themselves defy convention by being multi-layered and difficult to pigeonhole; the younger characters, particularly, and the chilly aunt Sandra, behave in such a way that the reader is left continually second-guessing their guilt or innocence.
However, it's hard not to feel that private investigator Ed Loy owes a little too much to the archetypes of detective fiction, as well as fulfilling a certain middle-aged fantasy. Despite the fact that he is neither particularly witty nor intuitive, women - all women - flirt shamelessly within moments of meeting him and seem willing to confess their deepest sins and most intimate secrets without reluctance. The existence of an oft-referred-to ex-wife in Los Angeles, not to mention a lot of hard drinking, offer a certain cliched element while adding little to the character's development.
Still, for all that, the case rattles along quite briskly, is filled with surprises, and the ending, when it comes, is both unexpected and contains an element of the Victorian gothic that is very satisfying. The book is not particularly taxing, and few sentences will make the reader hesitate to consider the beauty of the English language, but as an entry in a continuing mystery series it should certainly appeal to fans of the genre and leave them looking forward to the next.
John Boyne's novelThe Boy In The Striped Pyjamas was a double-winner at this year's Irish Book Awards.