Saturday 21 April 2018

The master of the mic Sean delivers a great crime yarn

Sean Moncrieff, of course, is better known as a broadcaster than a novelist. His Newstalk show is funny, brisk and entertaining – quite a way removed from The Angel of the Streetlamps, his latest novel.

It's thoughtful and dark, even cynical, in its dissection of how a single crime reverberates throughout Irish society – and holds it up to the mirror.

The Galway man isn't new to publishing: this is his third novel, after 2000's Dublin and 2007's The History of Things, the latter especially getting good reviews. He's also released two non-fiction works.

The Angel of the Streetlamps is the story of Manda Ferguson, a young woman who falls to her death from an apartment window. Apparently pushed, with the man responsible on the run temporarily at least, it quickly becomes big news.

The media hype is cranked up even more because Manda's body became entangled en route to death with an election poster of beautiful candidate Rachel Belton.

The victim's cousin, Carol, happens to be a tabloid reporter who drinks too much and can't help seeing the murder as a potential escape from her professional dead end.

And that's not even starting on the fact that Manda's spirit is reported to have started appearing under the streetlights. . .

Each chapter is told by a revolving cast of first person narrators, each titled with that character's full name. It's a clever conceit, though tricky to pull off, but Moncrieff generally manages to keep their voices separate and identifiable.

In fact, I was surprised by how well-written The Angel of the Streetlamps is, as in the quality of the prose (not the author's fault, more a presumption based on the aforementioned radio show).

There's a tendency to over-egg the description, but other than that the writing is snappy and stylish, and his dialogue is spot-on.

The story's good too, broadening out and dovetailing back in and getting entangled in itself, these characters' lives meshing together in ways that are potentially ruinous but also possibly redemptory.

It seems to be about the search for salvation, in some ways; people struggling to fill the God-shaped hole, when they no longer believe in God, or even particularly want to.

There's a very cool little coda at the end, which I can't describe at all because it'd ruin the surprise. But it's a lovely few pages to finish (though the scene is not free from pain), really affecting and almost transcendental in tone by the conclusion.

Interestingly, the idea of a murdered girl appearing as an apparition is also explored by Don DeLillo in the title story of last year's collection The Angel Esmeralda.

Obviously Moncrieff couldn't have known about it, as his book would have been completed by the time DeLillo published. But it's a funny little coincidence, maybe an example of the Anima Mundi at work, and it gave this novel an added layer of depth, a shimmer of grace.

Darragh McManus's crime novel Even Flow is available in shops and online.

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