Book Review: There Was A Crooked Man by Cat Hogan
Fresh from wreaking havoc in a small Wexford fishing village, from destroying lives, marriages and careers, Scott Carluccio Randall is back.
In this, the follow up to They All Fall Down, he finds himself in Morocco, licking his wounds, taking stock of his situation, his sole purpose returning to Wexford, finishing what he started, exacting revenge on those responsible for landing him in this sorry mess.
Yet he's making the most of his circumstances, submerging himself in the Marrakesh nightlife; womanising, drinking, indulging, living it up while he plots out his future.
Life in the fastlane doesn't come cheap however, and in order to maintain the standard of excellence he is accustomed to Scott gravitates towards the seedier characters in his new home town.
On top of the usual drug running and extortion he is now trafficking women, wining and dining innocent newcomers, charming them, promising them the world, and then dumping them in the laps of local pimps and hustlers.
But this is all just a distraction, a means to an end. Scott yearns for home, for the lush fields of Wexford, the sandy beaches, the salty air, and his old friends Jen and Andy.
They remain in their old house, now married, trying for a baby. Or are they? Because while Andy is keen to be a father, to add to the clan, Jen is otherwise occupied. Despite counselling and medication she is struggling to overcome her past, to banish all thoughts of Scott from her mind.
And the thought of bringing a new life into the world when she's not even sure she wants to continue her own terrifies her. So she lies to her husband, pretends she's not taking contraceptives, that it's only a matter of time before young Danny has a brother or sister.
Because in Jen's mind they can never truly hope to move on until Scott is in the ground, until he is six feet deep and incapable of hurting her or her family.
Although There Was A Crooked Man features the same cast of characters as its predecessor, and is very much of the same mould, there are some subtle differences in how its story is told.
Whereas They All Fall Down boiled and bubbled early on, showing its hand to readers in the opening two acts, its follow-up opts to keep things simmering, to build to one rousing finale. You know its coming, that the show-down is inevitable, but the journey there is measured, more detailed.
Hogan takes the time to show us round Marrakesh, to bring us into its bustling, claustrophobic markets, its dusty, dirty side streets, the parts tourists don't always see, aren't allowed see.
From there we stop, briefly, in Berlin, a city still rebuilding itself, still remodelling itself after years under communist rule. These cities are accurately protrayed by an author flexing her descriptive muscles, an author willing to take a departure from that which made her previous work such a success.
Rather than detract from the thrust of the story, this adds more weight to proceedings, allows the reader to accompany Scott, and to a lesser extent Jen, into the heart of darkness.
Providing further insight into the world of Mr Carluccio Randall is a new, first-person perspective. Whereas They All Fall Down was written entirely in the third-person, in its successor we get to see how the mind of a egotistical sociopath works.
All Scott's chapters are told from his perspective, his bleak, twisted thought processes as deluded as they are nefarious.
Because ultimately he must play second fiddle to the book's true hero, or heroine as is the case. In Hogan's writing the women are the strong ones, perhaps not physically or often times, emotionally, but they are possessed of an inner strength unlike anything Scott Carluccio Randall or any of his cronies can muster.
And the strongest woman of all is Jen. She may have been left battered and bruised by her adversary, left on the brink of breakdown following the most traumatic of experiences, but is she that emerges as the antidote to Scott's poison.
Fittingly, she is not a pitched as a superheroine, a fearless, femme fatale ready to mete out justice by any means necessary. But as a mother, a wife, a woman with fears and insecurities. She fights only because she has to, because the survival of her child depends on it.
A mother's love, her maternal instincts, drives Jen to overcome her demons, to face her greatest fears, and although the author stresses this is not a feminist novel, its leading lady is one very much of her time, and very much a heroine, however unwitting.