Given that Eoin McNamee inhabits the more literary end of the crime-writing spectrum, it comes as a very pleasant surprise to discover that his fin-de-siècle-in-retrospect thriller about the death of the former Princess of Wales in a Parisian automobile crash is written with the tropes of the hard-boiled crime novel very much in mind. The taut, often monosyllabic prose creates a relentless momentum as a variety of seedy characters (‘Bennett was like something exhumed by lamplight.’) arrive in Paris to inhabit the shadows and watch over the paparazzi-lit spectacle of ‘Spencer’ and ‘the Arab’, who are rumoured to be getting engaged as a result of Diana’s falling pregnant, a development unlikely to be well-received at the highest levels of the British establishment. Or are the hawks gathering because of Diana’s on-going campaign against landmines? Could it be true that she plans to speak out on behalf of the Palestinian cause? One of the pleasures of 12:23 is the realism McNamee brings to a tale that is as seductively plausible as The Day of the Jackal, while also playing up to the coarsened clichés of crime fiction: ‘Harper … crouched over, feeling like a fictional detective, a gone-to-seed aphorist in a cheap suit.’ … ‘Terse changes seemed to be in order. It was important that dialogue was clipped, utilitarian.’ An intimate tale that gets up close and personal with its bottom-feeding low-lives to the extent that it’s almost possible to smell their sweat and taste their cheap perfumes, it also has the capacity to open out into a kind of continent-vaulting international thriller, with McNamee making a number of non-specific references to a sense of over-arching collaboration in the supposed plot to murder the erstwhile princess, a plot in which the paparazzi are as guilty as specially-trained special forces operatives, and where the public greed which the paparazzi feeds is condemned as implicit in her destruction. ‘He knew the kinds of people who got swept up in the wake of people like Spencer. The cultists, the stalkers and loners and pale compulsives, out there on the margins, a citizenry of lost.’ Whether or not you buy into the Parisian grassy knoll theory McNamee offers here, this is a muscular tale of intrigue, deception, double- and triple-dealing. It’s also a masterclass in observational prose, and a compelling page-turner to boot.- Declan Burke
This review is reproduced with the kind permission of Eurocrime
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.