Moral decay in peacetime: bandit country
Maurice Hayes on a thriller that exposes the dark underbelly of the North today.
Fiction: Border Angels by Anthony J Quinn. Head of Zeus, tpbk, €14.99.
Whether by serendipity or good timing, Anthony Quinn seems to have got the publicity well organised for the launch of his latest thriller about sex-slavery, human trafficking and prostitution in the Border area, thanks to two Archbishops recently warning the Irish public of these evils going on under their noses, even in the smallest communities.
This is Northern Ireland author Quinn's second book involving Inspector Celcius Daly (the first, Disappeared, set along the shores of Lough Neagh in the aftermath of the Troubles, won lavish praise from critics as far afield as the LA Times and the Washington Post, as well as the Guardian in the UK).
This new one mines the same rich vein of noir which has surfaced in Northern Ireland following the end of the Troubles. Peace on the surface means for some the sanitation of corruption and crime as gunmen morph into fuel-launderers, drug pushers or Sinn Fein community workers and councillors (and sometimes all three at once) and South Armagh and the Border country becomes a threatening Transylvanian forest landscape, wanting only werewolves and vampires, but otherwise redolent of threat and lurking evil.
Into this comes Inspector Duffy, himself in transition from the buccaneering days of RUC Special Branch to the more rule-bound, politically correct PSNI.
In a fast-moving story of crime and conspiracy, Quinn exposes the dark underside of a deeply compromised and ethically challenged society, on prostitution, sex-slavery and human trafficking, racism, the property boom, the ghost estates, the lack of accountability and the milking of reconciliation funds from Europe.
The plot involves Duffy in a search for a Croatian woman, Lena Novak, attempting to escape from slavery in a brothel, one of several in the area controlled by east European criminal gangs. She flees to the forest, leaving behind two dead men, one an apparent suicide, except to the well-honed instincts of Inspector Duffy who follows the trail relentlessly in his own time, and despite the reservations of his superiors in the new order of policing, in the bizarre company of a prostitute and a retired hit-man, called back into service to oblige old comrades.
In a story that has as many twists and turns, as many dead ends, potholes and bumps as an unapproved border road, Quinn keeps masterly control of the narrative, which involves four different but interlocking hunts. It is never quite clear who is the hunter, who the quarry or who it is who actually pulls the strings. All this too in a wonderfully maintained atmosphere of gothic gloom as figures disappear in the night into the lurking menace of the primeval forest, and an erotic potential which maintains a sexual tension to the end, in which the good guys prevail. Or do they?
Maurice Hayes is a former Ombudsman in the North.
Head of Zeus, tpbk, €14.99
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350.