I’ve mentioned Eoin McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE on these pages more than once in the last few weeks, but it really is a terrific read. If you don’t believe me, check out John Burnside’s review in The Guardian last week. The gist runneth thusly:
“Northern Ireland, 1961. The body of a young woman, stripped naked, brutally beaten, stabbed and finally strangled, is discovered in a stubble field after a dance at Newry Orange Hall. Though the police have nothing to go on other than the most circumstantial evidence, the whole town agrees that the killer is a young bodybuilder and ne'er-do-well named Robert McGladdery …Nice. Meanwhile, I was delighted to see Stuart Neville’s very fine COLLUSION reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times at the weekend, although it has to be said, it was less of a review and more of a synopsis. To wit:
“It is this sense of how the defining moments come to be agreed – of how they are essentially defined by the ruling class – that illuminates ORCHID BLUE, so that what begins as a crime thriller gradually builds not only into a political novel of the highest order but also that rare phenomenon, a genuinely tragic work of art.” - John Burnside
The violence in Stuart Neville’s novels about Northern Ireland is about as nasty as it gets in noir crime fiction. But while the bloodshed in Neville’s first novel, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST, was viewed from the perspective of a professional killer named Gerry Fegan, in COLLUSION (Soho, $25), a law enforcement officer is drawn into the brutality, which only adds to the sense of despair. Detective Inspector Jack Lennon, a Belfast policeman with an unsavory past, has a chance to redeem himself by coddling an informant with intelligence on local gangsters doing business with a Lithuanian mob. But in the process Lennon learns of more serious criminal collusion involving “the cops, the Brits, the Irish government, the party” — not to mention the mob bosses.Now, I’m sure Stuart Neville isn’t exactly complaining, but I was left scratching my head as to the point of a ‘review’ like that. Maybe I’m being obtuse, but if I hadn’t read the novel, I’d be no wiser as to if it was actually any good, and if so, why. Which is the point, is it not, of a review?
This corruption can be traced all the way back to the Troubles and to one particular bloodbath that made fugitives of Lennon’s estranged lover and daughter. In his frantic efforts to find them, the detective turns to Fegan, the assassin, who is his only hope of finding out why that old atrocity is being revisited. What he doesn’t hold out any hope for is an end to the cycle of violence — not in Northern Ireland, where even today, in the midst of peace, organized crime is relentlessly intruding. - Marilyn Stasio