Richard Beard’s Acts of the Assassins (Harvill Secker), but as Gallio quickly discovers, this is a missing persons case with a significant difference.
Gallio is a Speculator – investigator – with the Jerusalem division of the Complex Cases Unit (CCU), an elite department of the Roman military police. The missing body is that of local mystic rabble-rouser Jesus, who was executed by crucifixion only days before. Jesus’ corpse has since gone missing from its tomb, and Gallio – who was charged with overseeing the execution, as a punishment detail for cocking up his investigation into the apparently miraculous resurrection of Lazarus only a few weeks beforehand – can’t afford to allow another stain on his career record.
A hard-headed veteran, Gallio refuses to believe the rumours being circulated by Jesus’ disciples. “What it can’t possibly be, and what he refuses to contemplate, is died, risen, coming again.” Having witnessed Jesus’ agonies and death on the cross with his own eyes, “Gallio bans all discussion of resurrection as a potential line of enquiry,” and sets out to interrogate the disciples to get at the truth of how they managed to pull off the magnificent trick of stealing Jesus’ body away from a sealed tomb.
On the basis of its opening 20 pages or so, the second offering Richard Beard’s ‘Messiahs Trilogy’ – the first, Lazarus is Dead, was published in 2011 – is an audacious take on the crime / mystery novel. Beard is clearly a student (or perhaps scholar might be more appropriate) of the crime fiction genre, given that the story begins as a straightforward police procedural investigation but also broadens out to incorporate other sub-genres such as the spy novel (“Jesus has skills, fieldcraft …” muses Gallio on his foe). The serial killer novel also looms large when it is discovered that the disciples, having exiled themselves to various parts of the empire, are being bumped off one by one, murdered by some shadowy killer in a variety of gory deaths, such as beheadings, flayings, stonings and so forth.
On one level a steely-eyed investigation into the apparent miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, the novel also functions as a metaphysical exploration of faith and belief. Gallio, a proud citizen of the Roman empire, views Jesus, his disciples and their teachings about life after death as superstitions that run contrary to his own unswerving belief in civilisation, science and rationalism.
These all offer intriguing elements to a hugely readable novel, but arguably the most intoxicating aspect of the story is Beard’s narrative experiment in what he describes as ‘quantum fiction’. Despite the fact that Gallio is investigating the alleged resurrection of Jesus, the story takes place in a contemporary setting, complete with modern weaponry, travel and attitudes towards terrorism. The concept is that, as Gallio observes of Jerusalem, “past and present coexist. Possibly the future too.” The narrative style gives Gallio (and the reader) “a vision of eternity where everything is now, and now is everything,” a perspective that allows the reader to experience ancient history unfolding in the here-and-now (the origin of the great fire that devastated Rome is referred to as ‘Ground Zero’; Jesus’ Second Coming is taken to mean a spectacular terrorist attack at the heart of the empire).
It’s a thrilling inventive approach, albeit one leavened by Beard’s slyly absurdist sense of humour. “Whatever the destination is,” Gallio declares as he flies to Antioch from Jerusalem via Amsterdam, “there’s always a change at Schipol. The world as it is keeps turning.”
Meanwhile, Gallio himself will be familiar to fans of the conventional mystery novel, a taciturn loner with commitment issues who is overly fond of the booze, but in the context of the rich tapestry Beard weaves around his protagonist, Gallio’s very ordinariness is something of a relief, a recognisably human (with all the failings that implies) touchstone in a bewildering new landscape.
“Jesus might be the gentle son of god spreading the wealth and healing the sick,” muses Gallio at one point. “Or he could be an intolerant fucker, good with a knife.” Controversial, thought-provoking, funny and challenging, Acts of the Assassins is a delightfully fantastic and utterly compelling tale. ~ Declan Burke
This review was first published in the Sunday Business Post.
“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.
Friday, May 8, 2015
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Meanwhile, and for the day that’s in it, here’s a couple of poems for your delectation …
Meanwhile, and for the day that’s in it, here’s a couple of poems for your delectation …
Scatter the pieces on the floor
And put away the box.
Begin again, from memory,
For the pure joy of fingering blind
And the soft fitting together.
Each shape its own thing,
Awkward tongue and teardrop groove,
Only ever snug in its singular place.
Like words, they are, these pieces
Of Arctic Scene With Polar Bear and Seal,
Sifting down out of perfect silence
To settle perfectly blank as snow.
In the Cyclades the light has a brutal purity
Slicing through to the meaning of Pi
So that the world seems hyper-aware,
Self-conscious without ever becoming shy
Like a half-wild cat or empty stage.
They say the Sahara is where it begins,
The sorokos, and grains of sand carried north
To polish the light from within
And set the very molecules a-tremble
In a shimmering dance of rock and sea
That renders the stark and barren reality
An intense, voluptuous dream.
In the islands your itinerary becomes a haiku
Where you relinquish the need for rhyme,
Prismed in the dazzling brilliance of a sliver
Of mirror smashed long before your time.
A pirate ship, an upstairs cave,
A reading den or castle sunk,
An indoor treehouse under pixie leaf –
O the possibilities of an upstairs bunk!
The upper an orphanage and menagerie
Of teddies, puppies, tigers and dolls,
The lower a bridge strung with pink fairy lights
To dazzle those ever-lurking trolls.
It was heaven up there and we on the lower
Singing our tuck-in lullabies by night
To those guardian angels who stayed to watch o’er
In the darkest hours before dawn’s early light.
O the possibilities of an upstairs bunk!
And the hope that perhaps tempted fate –
How sad the math of two bunks, one child,
And the vacuum of an impossible weight.
Now and again she would softly sigh
As only a six-year-old can sigh
And wish she had a sister. But Lily –
We tried, my love, O how we tried.
Crime Fiction Ireland report that Benedict Kiely’s PROXOPERA, a story of that vile invention known as a ‘proxy bomb’ and first published in 1977, has been republished by Turnpike Books. To wit:
When violent men intrude on his home by the lake, Granda Binchey is forced to deliver a bomb while his family are held hostage. As Binchey travels through the countryside he reflects on the past, his family and everything that he values, all that is now threatened.Turnpike Books “was founded to publish new editions of a series of books that will build into a history of Northern Ireland’s twentieth-century literature, and a parallel series of the major English short story writers.” For more, clickety-click here …
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
It’s an appropriately creepy introduction to a novel billed as a psychological intrigue, and Mary’s life quickly begins to spiral down into fear, paranoia and crippling self-doubt. Why does the NYPD cop, Gerry Keaney, behave so bizarrely when he comes to investigate the threatening call? Might Mary’s ex-husband David, whom she left due to ‘mental cruelty’, be trying to terrify her, or has he even worse in mind? Can Mary even trust her friend Sheila, who comes to stay with Mary to help her over this difficult period, but who has sinister secrets of her own to hide?
These are all potential plot developments in a conventional psychological thriller, but The Night Game is by no means a conventional novel. Frank Golden is also an artist, filmmaker and poet, and the story is told in language that is as rich and dense as the fog that shrouds proceedings throughout. As Mary walks home that first evening, “The sloot bellow of a distant foghorn gutters in the darkness,” and Mary “ … feels the freedom in occlusion, the draped secrecy of befogged streets, the cling and obfuscation of the particle world.”
This is not, however, language for its own sake. The vividly imagined storytelling is latticed with allusion, metaphor and double meaning, all of which become increasingly apt as Mary’s psychological condition is revealed. She’s an ‘alternate’, a woman with disassociative identity disorder who is entirely conscious of – and indeed, actively encourages the development of – the multiple personalities she inhabits at various stages throughout the story.
The ‘domestic noir’ sub-genre of psychological thrillers thrives on the emotional intimacy between its protagonists, most notably in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep. In The Night Game, however, Frank Golden offers a fascinating twist on the conventions. Mary is every bit as ambiguously shape-shifting a character as her nemesis, but despite her apparent vulnerability she’s also equally dangerous: here the hunted is as potentially lethal as the hunter, and Mary – who just so happens to keep ‘a malicious little knife’ in her cutlery drawer – has no intention of playing the passive victim.
The tension derived from Mary’s gradual metamorphosis results in a compelling tale that delves deep beneath the skin of the psychological thriller to explore unusually complex motivations. The story plunges into the dark gore of the human psyche, detailing brutal violence, abusive sex and harrowing self-harm. Indeed, certain passages demand a strong stomach, and there are times when it feels as if Golden is almost daring the reader to glance away, for the sake of decorum, from Mary’s self-torturing agonies.
There are a number of improbable narrative segues (although such developments, it should be said, are fully in keeping with the nightmarish tone), and Golden’s emphasis on the psychological rather than the thriller means that the story occasionally veers into extended dialogues on therapy and disassociative identity disorder that tend to stall the story’s impetus. For the most part, however, The Night Game is a challenging, transgressive and gripping read, a chilling portrait of one woman’s personal hell. ~ Declan Burke
This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Tana’s THE SECRET PLACE is shortlisted in the Best Novel category for an Agatha Award, which will be announced during the Raleigh Bouchercon weekend, with the shortlist looking a lot like this:
Best NovelFor the rest of the Anthony Award nominees, clickety-click on The Rap Sheet.
• Lamentation, by Joe Clifford (Oceanview)
• The Secret Place, by Tana French (Viking)
• After I’m Gone, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)
• The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
• Truth Be Told, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)
The shortlist will be announced on June 15; for all the nominees, clickety-click on Euro Crime.
Monday, May 4, 2015
following on from LITTLE GIRL LOST (2011) and HURT (2013). To wit:
Detective Sergeant Lucy Black is visiting her father, a patient in a secure unit in Gransha Hospital on the banks of the River Foyle. He’s been hurt badly in an altercation with another patient, and Lucy is shocked to discover him chained to the bed for safety. But she barely has time to take it all in, before an orderly raises the alarm - a body has been spotted floating in the river below...Brian McGilloway’s HURT was a NYT best-seller, so here’s hoping PRESERVE THE DEAD can repeat the trick. The book is published on July 2nd.
The body of an elderly man in a grey suit is hauled ashore: he is cold dead. He has been dead for several days. In fact a closer examination reveals that he has already been embalmed. A full scale investigation is launched - could this really be the suicide they at first assumed, or is this some kind of sick joke?
Troubled and exhausted, Lucy goes back to her father’s shell of a house to get some sleep; but there’ll be no rest for her tonight. She’s barely in the front door when a neighbour knocks, in total distress - his wife’s sister has turned up badly beaten. Can she help?
In Preserve The Dead, Brian McGilloway weaves a pacy, intricate plot, full of tension to the very last page. DS Lucy Black’s third outing since the bestselling Little Girl Lost, confirms her as one of the decade’s most original female detectives: strong, sensitive and ever determined.