TRAINSPOTTING author Irvine Welsh has lashed out at claims he’s cashing-in on Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and the horrors of child-sex abuse with his latest novel. Set in Florida, CRIME is a thriller about a burned-out Scottish detective who stumbles across a paedophile ring while on holiday with his fiancée … some critics have panned his latest literary venture, saying the best-selling novelist is cynically exploiting a controversial and emotive subject to “pay the mortgage”.This story is particularly relevant in Ireland, where the release of Ben Affleck’s movie Gone Baby Gone, based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, was delayed for six months in deference to the sensibilities of those affected by the McCann disappearance. An unusually tasteful and worthy move by the distributors, the delay was nonetheless a pointless exercise in the kind of woolly thinking that strives to protect the general public from itself.
Without being flippant or dismissive of child sex abuse, or the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, this issue really does beg the question of what an author, and particularly a crime novelist, is allowed to write about without incurring the wrath of morality’s storm-troopers. For example, on pages 6-7 of yesterday’s Irish Times, there were stories, in no particular order of importance, relating to:
drug smuggling; solicitors found guilty of misconduct; the jailing of a man for possessing child-rape pornography; a woman convicted of murdering her husband; a man convicted of indecent assault; a woman alleged to have contracted a hitman to murder her husband; the trafficking of a Nigerian girl as a sex-slave; a Gardai inquiry into a case of alleged euthanasia; and a murder arising from a gangland feud in Limerick.Are these stories, and any stories similar to them, now off-limits to novelists simply because those involved have achieved their 15 minutes of fame? Should Shakespeare be struck off the Leaving Certificate curriculum for writing about regicide? Is it our moral duty to tout Arthur Conan Doyle to the SPCA for advocating the relentless pursuit of large hounds on Dartmoor?
We don’t for one second believe that Irvine Welsh – who wrote about heroin addiction when it was neither popular nor profitable, for example – had Madeleine McCann in mind when he began writing CRIME. But even if he did, is he not entitled, and some might argue morally obliged as a novelist, to confront the issues that are relevant to contemporary society? If crime fiction is about only one thing, it is about lancing taboos to allow us confront our worst fears, forcing us to deal with the casual horrors of day-to-day life in a mature and balanced way. Demonising paedophiles hasn’t helped; trying to understand the whys and hows of their sickness might help, both them and us. For that reason alone, Irvine Welsh’s CRIME deserves a wide audience.