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, July 31, 2014

Reviews: Lynda La Plante, Stuart Neville, Cara Black, Robert Littell

Best known, perhaps, as the writer of the TV series Prime Suspect, Lynda La Plante has published over 30 novels. Twisted (Simon & Schuster, €27.50) is probably her most complete offering to date. Ostensibly a police procedural, it opens with Lena and Marcus Fulford in the early stages of what promises to be a very messy divorce. Distracted by their bickering, neither parent notices when their only daughter, Amy, fails to appear home from boarding school for the weekend. When the alarm is finally raised, DI Reid of the Richmond Missing Persons’ Unit discovers some very disturbing entries in Amy’s private journal. As the search for Amy criss-crosses London, and friends of Lena and Marcus begin to die, DI Reid isn’t entirely sure if he’s trying to find a victim or hunting a killer. Told in a straightforward and unadorned style, the story drives relentlessly forward as it implicates a number of characters in Amy’s disappearance, broadening out from its police procedural origins to incorporate a fascinating psychological investigation into the damaged mind of a killer who is as much a victim of circumstance as those murdered. Compassion appears to be La Plante’s watchword here, as she contrives a series of revelations designed to force even the most seasoned of crime fiction readers to reappraise their expectations. Some of the revelations are a little more contrived than others, it’s true, but what’s most impressive about Twisted is La Plante’s treatment of the missing Amy. In less experienced hands, the ‘wandering daughter’ angle would serve as little more than an introductory hook to hang an investigation on. Absent though she might be for most of the story, Amy nevertheless becomes a more absorbing, poignant and complex character the further DI Reid’s investigation progresses.
  The Final Silence (Harvill Secker, €14.99) is Stuart Neville’s fifth novel, and the third to feature DI Jack Lennon of the PSNI as its central character. The story opens with Rea Carlisle, an old flame of Lennon’s, clearing out the house of her recently deceased uncle, Raymond. When Rea discovers evidence of horrific murders she contacts Lennon, unaware that he is currently suspended from duty and that her discovery, and her instinct to publicise it, has marked her out as problem to be disposed of. Neville’s most recent novel, Ratlines (2013), was set in the 1960s, but otherwise his novels tend to revolve around contemporary crimes that have their roots buried deep in Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’. The Final Silence is no exception, its succinct and pacy storytelling stretched taut across a morass of unresolved tensions and motives for murder that don’t necessarily fit the prevailing post-Peace Process narrative. Indeed, Lennon himself could well serve as a poster boy for conflict resolution, a deeply flawed man who has in the past been his own worst enemy, and is now battered and scarred, physically and emotionally, as he pursues truth and justice by any means necessary.
  American author Cara Black sets her Aimée Leduc series of novels in Paris, where the effortlessly chic Aimée works as a private investigator. Murder Below Montparnasse (Soho Crime, €27.50) is her 13th outing, which opens with Aimée commissioned by Yuri, a ‘stubborn old Cossack’ Russian émigré, to protect a long-lost Modigliani. It sounds like a straightforward job, but when Aimée discovers Yuri murdered – apparently tortured to death – and the painting gone, she discovers that the art world can be a lethal place to do business. What follows is a breathless tale of double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses as the private eye finds herself at the heart of a century-old plot that incorporates not only the great painters of the avant-garde but also one Vladimir Illyich Lenin. Black sketches in the Montparnasse backdrop with considerable style, contrasting its contemporary political turmoil with its bohemian origins in the early part of the 20th century, and weaves a host of sub-plots through the main story, including one involving the heroine’s long-absent mother, who may or may not be a hired killer for the CIA. It all makes for an exhilarating read, although the sheer volume of intricately plotted twists, turns and revelations that send Aimée ricocheting through the Parisian streets and make Murder Below Montparnasse the proverbial page-turner might well frustrate a more patient reader.
  The exploits of Adrian Russell ‘Kim’ Philby have been picked over many times, but Robert Littell’s Young Philby (Duckworth Overlook, €11.50) takes an intriguing approach to exploring the motivations of the notorious British spy, who defected to the Soviet Union when his cover was finally blown in 1963. The novel begins with a Prologue in 1938, with a Russian ‘handler’ of Philby being interrogated in a Moscow prison, before going back to 1933, and Philby’s arrival in Vienna as Fascism begins to take hold in Austria. Essentially a series of portraits of Philby offered by those he worked with, the story comprises fictionalised encounters between, among others, Philby and his first wife Litzi Friedman, Guy Burgess, Teodor Maly, who first recruited Philby in London, and Evelyn Sinclair, the secretary who recorded conversations at the heart of the British secret service. This last account is the most fascinating of a beautifully detailed mosaic, offering as it does a revolutionary theory on Philby’s career and activities. Littell, who has published 18 novels to date, also offers a beguiling range of narrative styles as his clutch of narrators follow Philby from Austria to London and on to the Spanish Civil War, deftly recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of the pre-WWII years and the fluid political sympathies of the British ruling class. In re-imagining one of the most familiar figures of the Cold War landscape, Robert Littell has given us a spy thriller of the very highest order. ~ Declan Burke

  This column first appeared in the Irish Times.

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