Saxon (no first name, naturally) is a former FBI agent now living and drifting round Dublin. She’s written a best-selling book, so working doesn’t seem to be a pressing concern. But a would-be young actress is found murdered, so the police want her expertise. Saxon’s not over-keen to get involved, as she has her own mystery to solve. She’s spotted her former FBI colleague Leon Kaminski in Dublin, and wants to find out why he did a runner the moment he spotted her. THE JUDAS HEART is very strong on the atmosphere of a sweltering hot Irish capital and particularly the night-time streets. It’s a touch slow to get going, though, and Saxon spends rather too lot ruminating, and consequently it feels like the murder of Marsha Reed is relegated to the back burner. The book’s weakness is its main character, who, despite the time we spend with her, never seems quite convincing. Why’s she still addressed as Special Agent when she’s been out of the FBI for aeons, incidentally? And I’m never quite convinced, either, by the elationship between Saxon and Chief Supt Grace Fitzgerald. We should admire a writer who presents a gay relationship in such a matter-of-fact way – who people sleep with in real life (and mysteries) shouldn’t be an issue. But it is – particularly in the macho world of cops, and Black spends time trying to persuade us how backward the Irish police force is. So the fact that there’s one fleeting reference to a bigoted colleague being rapped over the knuckles for making homophobic comments in the canteen doesn’t ring quite true. Ingrid Black is apparently the pen-name for husband and wife partnership Eilis O’Hanlon and Ian McConnel. And yes, their main characters do feel like a straight person’s creation. That’s not to say that straight writers can’t write gay. But Saxon could quite easily be a bloke if the spell-checker changed ‘she’ to ‘he’ all through the book. On the whole, though, Black has written a fluent page-turner which is strong on atmosphere, sound on plotting and somewhat lacking in characterisation.– Sharon Wheeler
This review is republished by the kind permission of Reviewing the Evidence
“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.