Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: GARCÍA’S HEART by Liam Durcan

As with Peter Carey’s THEFT, it’s difficult to know if GARCÍA’S HEART should be designated a crime fiction novel. The protagonist, the Canadian neurologist Patrick Lazerenko, travels to The Hague to attend a war crime tribunal in which his former mentor and friend, Hernan García, stands charged with aiding and abetting in the torture of prisoners in Honduras. Hernan took the delinquent Patrick under his wing when the pair met in Montreal, where Hernan, a former cardiac specialist, was running a grocery shop. Channelling the young man’s energy into a more productive course, Hernan is almost exclusively responsible for Patrick’s successful life as a scientist and a businessman. Assailed on all sides by vested interests – both defence and prosecution want him to testify; a journalist who has written a best-selling exposé of Hernan believes Patrick is hiding the truth of what he knew about Hernan’s life in Honduras; Celia, Hernan’s daughter and Patrick’s former lover, has accepted the help of a dubious advocacy group campaigning on Hernan’s behalf, and wants Patrick to row in with their efforts – Patrick investigates not only the facts of the case in order to satisfy himself of Hernan’s innocence, but also the mysteries of how the human mind functions.
  Despite the plethora of crime fiction tropes, however, GARCÍA’S HEART owes more of a debt to Graham Greene than Raymond Chandler. Beautifully written though it is, its elegiac tone lacks the rapid pace that would qualify it as a conventional thriller. Neither, despite Patrick’s role as the seeker after truth, is it a variation on the private investigator novel, as Patrick is a largely passive character, a receptacle of information rather that its conduit.
  Nonetheless, GARCÍA’S HEART is a real page-turner. Durcan has a deliciously light style that wears its learning lightly, offering pithy insights into the human condition that are laced with bone-dry flashes of humour (“It turns out Roberto and Elyse were pretty intimate,” Nina said with the seriousness that weapons-grade gossip demanded.). He also asks some profound questions of the human condition, as in this exchange between Hernan’s lawyer and Patrick:
“I mean, I can see it, you know. The brain determines our mental states, how we feel, and brain function is subject to physical laws; it’s determined.”
“So, where is his free will? How can he be guilty? How can anybody be guilty?”
  In the end, the answers Patrick uncovers to these and other questions are messy, unsatisfactory and inconclusive. Durcan, himself a neurologist, refuses to deal in simplistic notions of good and evil and cause-and-effect, and nor is he overly concerned with the illusion of closure that characterises the crime / mystery genre. Instead he offers a downbeat but perfectly logical denouement that may well leave crime and mystery readers dissatisfied in the short term, but which offers hope to those who believe that a novel concerned with the traditional tropes of crime and criminality can be greater than the sum of its parts. – Declan Burke

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