“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.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Reviews: Connelly, Downie, Martin, Van Laerhoven, McDermid
Andrew Martin’s Night Train to Jamalpur (Faber & Faber, €11.50) is the ninth to feature Jim Stringer, an Edwardian-era detective working for the London and Southwest Railway. As the title suggests, this outing finds Stringer in India: the year is 1923, and Stringer is investigating the ‘considerable laxity’ – i.e., rampant corruption – in the East Indian Railway Company. Stringer, however, is far more interested in a series of murders committed by an unknown assassin who has been placing poisonous snakes in the First Class carriages of Indian trains. When Stringer travels to Jamalpur and narrowly avoids being killed himself in an apparently botched raid by bandits, he takes a personal interest in the case. The story emerges with all the languid grace of a snake being charmed from its basket as the details of Stringer’s covert investigation are neatly interwoven with a fascinating backdrop of nationalist agitation and Mahatma Ghandi’s campaign for Indian independence, which is gathering pace in the wake of what the English authorities blithely describe as ‘the Amritsar incident’.
Set in Paris in 1870, as Prussian forces encroach on the city, Bob Van Laerhoven’s Baudelaire’s Revenge (Pegasus Crime, €22.50) finds Commissioner Lefèvre and Inspector Bouveroux investigating a series of bizarre murders that appear to be committed by a killer nursing a grudge against critics of the poet Baudelaire, who died three years previously. While the main narrative of Flemish author Laerhoven’s English-language debut is a conventional one of policemen pursuing a serial killer, albeit one who considers murder ‘an amoral work of art’, the novel also functions as a superb historical tale of an embattled city, as Napoleon III’s France finds itself at war not only with Prussia but also subversive elements in Paris itself. There are also strong gothic horror overtones, courtesy of a manuscript left behind by the killer, in which Baudelaire’s themes of sex and death are writ large. The flamboyantly lurid tone is hugely entertaining, although its excesses are leavened by Laerhoven’s depictions of his competent, dogged investigators, hardened veterans of France’s military adventures in North Africa and men who, for the most part, ‘prefer discretion to good morals’.
This column was first published in the Irish Times.