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Confessions of a Mystery Novelist: "A dark, realistic story of the life of a Garda detective, told with humanity and a thread of wit."

Date: Mar 11 2013

Welcome to anther edition of In The Spotlight. While Irish crime fiction has been around for a long time, there’s been a recent surge of interest in, especially, Irish noir. To get a sense of the kind of work coming from some of today’s Irish noir authors, let’s take a look at Gene Kerrigan’s THE RAGE.

The action in the novel begins with the murder of Dublin banker Emmet Sweetman, who’s shot in his home by two thugs. DS Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney begin the investigation. They soon discover that Sweetman had taken advantage of the sudden wealth available during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years. Greed got the better of him and he took increasingly risky financial decisions. When everything started to fall apart, so did some of the shady deals that Sweetman had made. He got some very dangerous people very angry so Tidey and Cheney have a list of suspects.

At the same time, Tidey is caught up in another case. He witnessed an incident between two young hoodlums and a couple of Garda officers which has now come to court. Tidey claims that although he was in the pub where the brawl took place, he didn’t see what happened. However, the truth is a little different and we find that Tidey has his reasons for not immediately coming forward with what he knows.

The other main plot thread in this novel concerns Vincent Naylor, who’s recently been released from prison. He’s been in and out of trouble with the law for a long time and one of the things he’s learned is that risks aren’t worth taking unless the payoff is big. So he connects with his girlfriend Michelle Flood and his brother Noel and some friends and immediately starts planning a major coup – an armed robbery that will set him up financially. The group’s target is Protectica, a security company that transports cash to and from banks. The Naylor brothers and the rest of the gang plan carefully and pull off their heist. But then things fall apart quickly.  Now, Vincent Naylor decides to exact his revenge for what happens.

The third main character in this story is Maura Cody, a former nun who has her share of secrets. She is drawn into this story because of something she witnesses. What she sees puts her in grave danger and once Tidey is aware of that, he resolves to do whatever it takes to protect her.

The Sweetman murder and the stories of Vincent Naylor and Maura Cody are connected and as Tidey and Cheney work to find out who killed Sweetman and who committed the armoured car theft, we find out what that link is. The closer Tidey gets to the truth though, the more aware he is of the danger that faces Maura Cody. So he takes a fateful decision (I know – cliché – but it is appropriate here) because as he sees it, there is

No moral thing to do. But something had to be done.

In the end, Tidey does find a way out of the situation. It isn’t a good way out – there isn’t one – but it succeeds.

This is a noir novel. And that sense of darkness and bleakness is very much present in the novel. The situation with Maura Cody is just one example, but there are others. For instance, a major theme in this story is the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and the decisions and policies that led to it. Here’s what Kerrigan says about it: 

There were hundreds of thousands of houses and flats empty, hundreds of unfinished estates in which no one lived or would ever want to live, all built with borrowed money to take advantage of tax breaks. The knowledge that all the backslapping and arrogance of the previous decade was nurtured in bull**** made the country blush like a teenager caught posing in front of the mirror.

The financial debacle is closely connected to Sweetman’s murder and it has shaped Vincent Naylor’s attitude too. Throughout the novel we see the despair that’s been brought on by greed followed by ruin.

Maura Cody’s past is also a dark theme in this story. As a former nun, she’s seen firsthand some of the abuses of some Irish Catholic priests and nuns and through her sense of guilt and haunted memories, we see the devastation left by those abuses.

The novel has its share of violence, as do a lot of noir stories. Some of it is ugly. But the violence makes sense given the context, the characters and the story. It’s not gratuitous and it doesn’t drag on. Still, those who don’t like violence in their novels should know that there are some brutal, ‘though not gratuitous, moments in this story.

Another important element in this novel is the group of main characters. They are very different but each is authentic. There’s Bob Tidey, who’s been around long enough to know how things really are. He wants to do the right thing but he also knows that what is right is not always easy to know. In several places in this story he’s faced with decisions that can’t have good outcomes. He has to decide not what the ‘good’ choice is but what the choice is that will cause the least damage and protect the most innocent people. Because of that he’s fairly good at not being judgemental. Kerrigan is to be credited with not creating a stereotypical ‘haunted detective.’ Tidey drinks, but not as a crutch. His marriage has fallen apart but he and his ex-wife Holly still get together from time and time, and not just for dinner. He’s got his share of friends and friendly colleagues too.

And then there’s Vincent Naylor. On the one hand, he’s a thief among other things. He’s been mixed up in some very dirty business and most of us would say he belongs in jail. But he’s not a ‘cardboard cutout’ thug. He’s devoted to his girlfriend Michelle and one of the reasons he wants to pull off the armed robbery job is so that he can go away with her. He’s also got a deep friendship with his brother Noel. In several places he and Noel try to protect each other. He’s got dreams like most of us do, and as he sees that other people have gotten rich, he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t too. He even has, in an odd way, a sense of honour in the way he treats his friends.

Maura Cody is also an interesting character. She doesn’t want to be drawn into this mess at all, but her sense of duty (or is it guilt?) drives her to report what she’s seen. She has her share of ghosts and guilt and in her decision to get involved in this case you could argue that she’s searching for a kind of redemption.

We also see a wry sort of humour in this novel. Here’s Bob Tidey’s observation about the trial in the matter of the pub brawl he witnessed: 

With each sentence, the case drifted further from the truth – that two arrogant idiots took a walloping from two overbearing policeman. Courtroom custom demanded that they all pretend that this was about matters of great legal significance.

The humour works very effectively to lighten this sometimes very bleak story.

THE RAGE is a dark, realistic story of the life of a Garda detective, told with humanity and a thread of wit. It’s a uniquely Irish story set clearly in Dublin and features multidimensional characters involved in situations they didn’t ask for but will have to deal with as best they can. But what’s your view? Have you read THE RAGE? If you have, what elements do you see in it?