5 books, 5 digest reviews...
Last Night On Earth, Black Rose Days, Shot Through the Heart, Children's Children, The Steel Kiss
Reviews of Last Night On Earth, Black Rose Days, Shot Through the Heart, Children's Children, The Steel Kiss
Last Night On Earth
Review: Anne Cunningham
This riotous, bawdy and sometimes confusing novel opens with the birth of Shauna and Jay’s daughter. It’s a home birth which goes wrong, leaving their baby with various communication difficulties. The couple eventually split up, three years later, although the reader learns of this almost immediately.
Time-travelling back and forth, the story centres mostly on Jay, an Irish immigrant in London who started off on the building sites in the early 90’s but by pure fluke now makes TV documentaries. Jay’s love for his little daughter is the glue that holds his chaotic life somewhat together.
Shauna decides she needs psychotherapy to help her work out her “issues”, and ends up falling for her therapist, Dr Ghert. Some of the funniest passages in the book are the doctor-patient dialogues between this pair. But there’s plenty of other fun, too. And tragedy. And guilt, self-loathing, addiction, family problems, the whole gamut. There’s an Irish mammy at home, to whom Jay writes letters in his head. She suffers from Alzheimer’s and believes Jay is the second coming of Christ. He, in turn, is wracked with guilt over not visiting her for 10 years. Just when it seems things couldn’t get worse, enter The Clappers, an old flame from Jay’s distant past, who has sought him out to “make her amends” to him as part of her 12-Step programme. It appears that Jay is her Step Nine! Packed with wildly colourful — if not quite believable — characters, at times it reads like an early John Irving novel, had Irving been born Irish. Despair sits comfortably with farce, hopelessness with rip-roaring comedy. Maher’s first book The Fields will hit the big screen sometime in the future, shooting starts in August. Don’t be surprised if this, his second novel, follows suit.
Black Rose Days
New Island Books, €13.95
Review: Patrick Kelleher
A murder mystery novel should be exciting, tense and dramatic. Unfortunately, Black Rose Days is a turgid and dull affair that only hits its stride in the final third of the narrative, and will almost certainly test your patience.
Black Rose Days follows Dan and his wife Irene on their trip to Ireland from America, where Dan has to meet his sister to sort out the sale of their mother’s house. What Dan fails to tell Irene is that he also hopes to find out who murdered his first wife many years before.
What follows is a jumbled mess of confusing narratives and cliched characters. Rather than allowing one protagonist to tell the story, Malone instead gives Irene, Dan and the deceased first wife, Ena, opportunities to tell their stories.
Ena’s is the only one that is truly gripping, and she offers moments of great depth and beauty.
Dan’s quiet and contemplative nature comes across as two-dimensional, and Irene is an aimless American stereotype who contributes little to the story.
While the story is uninspiring, so too is the writing. The descriptions of both characters and events are bland.
The dialogue is also stilted, especially between Dan and Irene, whose suffering marriage is the least interesting thing about the novel.
Though the first 200 pages are tedious, the last 80 do come into their own, and there is a sense that Malone is finally getting to tell the story he wanted to tell.
If the rest of the novel was as good as these closing pages, Black Rose Days would actually be a fairly successful mystery novel. As it stands, however, the novel is bloated and disappointing, and even occasional bursts of creativity and depth aren’t enough to salvage it.
Shot Through The Heart
Review: Hilary A White
On an icy Christmas Day, five members of the same household are shot dead by a desperate gunman who then ends his own life. The grisly core incident of Isabelle Grey’s tidy and superbly paced procedural is not just another day in some vague North American crime-fiction setting. It is in a very real and mundane England. The bloodbath understandably rocks the nation and elicits strong emotions in everyone right up to government level.
Grace Fisher — now Detective Inspector after Grey’s 2014 thriller Good Girls Don’t Die — smoulders while trying to manage survivors, coroners and a rabid press. There is just something not right about this massacre that everyone seems to want to consign to the archives. The feeling is shared by newspaper man Ivo Sweatman and the two realign to dig deeper. Fisher needs to tread carefully as one of the victims was of law enforcement stock and elements in the force don’t appreciate her inquisitiveness.
All the requisite tropes for crime kicks — blood, conspiracy, escalating menace, suspense — are present and accounted for in Grey’s latest. The English TV screenwriter is understandably adept at making the whole tableau breathe with life. Fisher has personal demons and is allowed to be affected by the horror while driven by her need for justice. Sweatman’s professional dismay that the crime offers “no fun, no tricky leads, no chase” at first glance is soon replaced by something more steely. Grey throws dark threats, slippery side-characters and a missing witness at them both with expert aim.
Liberties Press €14.99
Review: Anne Cunningham
The loss of a baby in childbirth. The watchfulness of young children observing their parents hate each other. The Polish nightshift worker who brings her child to work with her every night, unable to afford child care. The bleak landscape of a 40-year-old marriage all gone wrong. Not the stuff of comedy. And indeed it’s not all comedy, But Jan Carson can see the comical, the absurd in almost every human situation and – better still – can write about it convincingly.
The home ground for this delightful collection is Belfast, mostly working class. In Swept, the story of a long and tedious marriage, Bill deliberately deposits a Twix wrapper outside his own doorstep, purely to infuriate his fastidious wife. The sweeping up that ensues invokes a kind of catharsis in Bill, a man who’s proud of Van Morrison, pipe bands and the shipyards.
Denial turned into plain insanity is the subject of the heartbreaking Alternative Units. The similar theme of a couple losing their baby is explored in How They Were Sitting When Their Wings Fell Off. And a daughter’s care of her senile mother in Den and Estie Do Not Remember The Good Times is a masterful study of the frustrations involved in caring for an elderly, demanding parent.
Carson is eloquent and courageous, questioning the values of the “I’m worth it” generation, along with those of the great Catholic/Protestant divide, and she does it with inimitable flair.
The Steel Kiss
Hodder & Stoughton, €21.99
Review: Hilary A White
The spectacularly named Lincoln Rhyme has had a long and flourishing career under the pen of Chicago crime lord Jeffery Deaver. Deaver first introduced his paraplegic forensic detective to us in 1997’s The Bone Collector, which soon after was given a big screen outing starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie (pictured below). Nothing if not prolific, Deaver’s career sales run into the millions.
With no sign of the peaceful life in sight, Rhyme (now retired and lecturing on forensics) and NYPD sidekick Amelia Sachs are faced with a serial killer who uses technology to butcher his victims. In a gripping and gruesome intro, Sachs trails the fiend through a shopping mall only to be waylaid when a bystander falls into the mechanics of an escalator. It is rare to have such a tangible sense of the perp from the get-go in crime fiction as Deaver robustly voices the monster throughout via the first person. Deaver is putting the motives and murderous intent out there to chill the foreground.
If you’ve read anything else from his massive body of work, you’d know that there are two things Deaver doesn’t skimp on — detail and word count. For this reason, those who prefer their crime thrillers lean, mean and linear may feel worn out by The Steel Kiss and its long, sprawling shape. There is at times too much obsessive padding-out of the central premise, with momentum tending to stall during exhaustive and superfluous sub-plots and incidental asides. Deaver’s ace remains Rhyme himself.