Marilyn Stasio and Hallie Ephron, reviewing Declan Hughes’s THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS last weekend in the New York Times and the Boston Globe respectively, lamented the fact that Hughes has his private eye Ed Loy pursuing a serial killer in his latest outing. As it happens, I think Hughes has created one of the very few believable serial killers I’ve read about in recent times, a character who is not simply a two-dimensional cipher for evil but who is fascinating in his own right. That caveat aside, both ladies, along with Laura Wilson in The Guardian, were generous in their praise of THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS. To wit:
Declan Hughes isn’t just an other gruff voice in the barking crowd of noir crime writers. His characters have depth, his scenes have drama, and his sentences have grace.” - Marilyn Stasio, New York TimesFor what they’re worth, my own three cents are that Hughes has raised the bar with THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS, both for the PI novel in general and for Irish crime fiction in general. And given the year we had last year, that’s saying something.
“No one writes crime fiction quite like Declan Hughes … The storytelling is lean but always with poetic force and attention paid to word choice and to the rhythm of the prose.” - Hallie Ephron, Boston Globe
“Irish writer Hughes’s fifth book is a welcome addition to a series which has given the tired private-eye sub-genre a much-needed shot in the arm … The plot is taut and pacy, the prose is gorgeous, and there are plenty of twists and turns: a page-turner and a treat.” - Laura Wilson, The Guardian
Meanwhile, and while we’re on the subject of raising the bar, belated congratulations to Stuart Neville, who last weekend won the LA Times Best Mystery / Thriller Novel of the Year for his debut, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (aka THE TWELVE).
By happy coincidence, Neville’s novel features a protagonist who is not just a serial killer who goes about the business of killing a baker’s dozen of victims with some aplomb, but a man who is a serial killer twice over - first as a paramilitary hitman, then as a guilt-ridden ex-paramilitary driven to clear his conscience - who nevertheless gains and holds the reader’s sympathy as he cuts a bloody swathe through post-Peace Process Northern Ireland. Which suggests, as does Declan Hughes’s contribution, that it’s not the serial killer sub-genre that’s moribund per se, it’s the lazy writers who depend too heavily, and too luridly, on what the serial killer does rather than who the serial killer is. It’s the difference, I think, between pointing up the grotesque in humanity rather than illuminating the humanity in the grotesque. And that makes for a world of difference.