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.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reviewing The Evidence

There were a couple of very interesting reviews of Keith Ridgway’s HAWTHORN & CHILD (Granta Books) in the Irish Independent and Irish Times yesterday. What piqued my interest was that the phrase ‘crime fiction’ was conspicuous by its absence in both cases, even though our eponymous heroes are police detectives. Quoth the blurb elves:
Hawthorn and Child are mid-ranking detectives tasked with finding significance in the scattered facts. They appear and disappear in the fragments of this book along with a ghost car, a crime boss, a pick-pocket, a dead racing driver and a pack of wolves. The mysteries are everywhere, but the biggest of all is our mysterious compulsion to solve them. In HAWTHORN & CHILD, the only certainty is that we’ve all misunderstood everything.
  It’s not true, of course, that every novel to feature a police detective (or two) is a crime or mystery novel. Neither is it true that a book becomes a crime novel simply because crimes are committed or investigated during the course of the story. So I’m not entirely sure that HAWTHORN & CHILD qualifies as an Irish crime novel, or that Keith Ridgway would want it to be considered as such. Keith Ridgway is Irish, the novel is set in London, and Ridgway writes in the literary genre (I’ve already seen a call for it to be longlisted for the Booker Prize on Wednesday). That said, an earlier novel, THE PARTS, also dabbled in crime fiction tropes; and anyway, who the hell really knows what’s bubbling away at the back of a writer’s mind?
  Here’s a flavour of both reviews:
“Ridgway’s new book, HAWTHORN & CHILD, is strange, unsettling, fragmented, confusing, at times dreamlike (these are all good things, by the way). You won’t find sentimental stories of Irish emigrants here, nor self-flagellating clichés about dysfunctional families. […]
  “The story, or rather stories, concern two London policemen, the titular detectives Hawthorn and Child. It opens with them being called to a shooting, but this is just the beginning for a series of incidents both violent and tender, strange occurrences, stranger characters, shifts in time, shifts in perspective, shifts in tone and tempo.
  “The different threads are connected, but tenuously so, though of course this is deliberately done: it’s not as if Ridgway has lost control of his own stories.
  “The book makes the reader work hard, much like its two heroes: sifting through the facts, piecing together clues, trying to shape a cohesive narrative out of seemingly random bits of information. And it’s all the more satisfying for that.” - Darragh McManus, Irish Independent

“HAWTHORN & CHILD is a working partnership of two very different policemen. Together they patrol a seething present-day, utterly tangible London by car [...]
  “It is a novel of contrasts: darkness and light. The daily and mundane balanced against the sheer hell of evil. One man, who is good with accounts, has secured an easy life – admittedly working for a gangster – but then he finds himself pinned under a car that could fall on him. Elsewhere a baby who is about to be rescued is thrown down a stairs. A woman who lives in a neat, spacious flat hangs herself over a cooker while the gas rings burn her from beneath.” - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
  I haven’t read the novel yet - I’ll be trotting along to my local independent bookseller tomorrow, as fast as my little legs will allow - but it sounds like a fascinating prospect, similar in theme and tone to two of my favourite novels from last year, Sara Gran’s CITY OF THE DEAD and James Sallis’ THE KILLER IS DYING. Both were vaguely surreal in their approach and existential in tone, but - and here we can draw parallels in an Irish context with Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN, or the work of Ken Bruen, Eoin McNamee and Colin Bateman’s ‘Mystery Man’ series - tapped into an uncompromising realism in acknowledging that, despite our culture’s plaintive protestations to the contrary, justice is a fiction, evidence is arbitrary, and any conclusions drawn can only be subjective and thus fictions in their own right. All of which, of course, is the true subject matter and governing philosophy of every great crime novel.
  If HAWTHORN & CHILD is in the same ballpark, I’m in for a treat.


Alison Wells said...

I'm really looking forward to Hawthorn and Child to. Once again we face the tricky subject of genre when all good writers combine various elements, subjects, philosophies to create new juxtapositions and original works. For me, your last book Absolute Zero Cool with it's philosophical pronouncements and flirtations with reality probably belonged alongside Hawthorn and Child on the literary shelf which is not to denigrate in any way the worthy crime genre. Watching episodes of Wallander with cameo moments, shots through open door of single intense moments strikes me more of the literary. The best of every genre is that which gets to the core of human action and psychology and that is what literary work takes as it's first topic.

Declan Burke said...

Hi Alison - H&C sounds like a terrific prospect, alright. I'm looking forward to it.

As for AZC and the 'literary shelf', I'm just glad to see it on any shelf ...

Cheers, Dec

Alison Wells said...

Oh definitely, shelves of any sort are deadly.