I can’t remember now where I heard about Declan Hughes, but he is the real McCoy…an Irish writer with a depth of knowledge about human decency and failure, crime and motivations. His canvas is local—there is a known-ya-a-long-time intimacy to Irish novels that are quite unlike anything coming out of America, and families pass on curses and debts and deep knowledge of their community. Before turning to crime novels, Hughes was a theatre director and playwright, so he has the goods (knowledge of how to use conversation, structure, tension) to make a novel work.
In this first of a series Hughes wrote before the great economic downturn—the implosion it was in Ireland--with its inflated housing market and ballooning wealth. Since 2007 we have seen many follow-on novels that tell us how the aftermath of the financial crisis played out in Ireland, e.g., Tana French Broken Harbor and Ian Rankin The Impossible Dead, but this comes before the end when the crazy changes in living standards made one feel wildly giddy, as though one were looking in a funhouse mirror. It is fascinating now to look back at that time and wonder how everyone really thought it would end, or if it would end.
The main character is Ed Loy, transplanted for years to sunny California, where he escaped for a while his Irish roots. Come back to bury his mother from whom he was estranged, he found himself seeking the fate of his father, who had disappeared without a trace many years before. Nothing is finished until we decide it is so, and Ed finds old friends and enemies just about where he left them years before.
The story may become a bit unwieldy in its convolutions by the end, but the skill is sufficient to make us curious to look for more of Declan Hughes, Irish son that he is.
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