Quoth the blurb elves:
In rural Wexford, a young teenager is worried about his friend Sean. Sean, you see, has just accidentally killed a pregnant dog and her puppies. Sean isn’t stupid but he sometimes gets a bit confused. When the unnamed narrator brings him to Dr. Thorpe’s house to see about some new medication, they end up watching through the letterbox as Dr Thorpe beats a woman to death. This sharp witted and psychological narrative explores the troubles these teenagers face as they move towards a climax that will tear their worlds asunder.I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a crime narrative to me. Then again, I haven’t had the chance to read the book yet, so I’ll hold fire until such time as I do.
The same issue raised its head a couple of weeks back with Keith Ridgway’s very fine HAWTHORN & CHILD, which features a pair of London-based police detectives but is more a novel about characters involved in crime - victims, investigators, criminals - than it is about the crimes themselves, or their detection and/or consequences.
These are strange but exciting times for the Irish crime novel. One of the best crime titles of the year to date, Tana French’s BROKEN HARBOUR, probably functions best as a novel detailing the personal cost of the Irish economic collapse, and less well as a dedicated police procedural. Only this week, it was announced that John Banville’s alter ego, Benjamin Black, will publish a new Philip Marlowe novel next year in the style of Raymond Chandler.
Meanwhile, authors such as Keith Ridgway and Joe Murphy are offering stories that are bound up in criminal activity, yet shy away from explicitly describing themselves as crime novels. This may be in part a reluctance to be consigned to the crime fiction ghetto, as many people consider it. It may also be a literary reaction to the impossibility of coming to terms with the legal heisting of an entire country by a small number of gamblers and thieves. There’s a kind of schizophrenia abroad than can be loosely summed up as, ‘Yes, a crime took place; yes, it was immoral and unethical; yes, it was fully legal.’
Yet again, I’ll put forward my definition of a crime novel: if you can take out the crime and the novel still works, it’s not a crime novel; if you take out the crime and the story collapses, then it’s a crime novel.
Not that any definition matters, of course. What truly and only matters is whether the book is well written and has something interesting to say. By that mark, and having read the first few pages, DEAD DOGS is a very intriguing prospect. Stay tuned for more …