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Sunday Business Post: "Crime, for Kerrigan, represents the nexus where all the interesting aspects of modern Ireland congregate for dissection."

Date: Jun 18 2006

Kerrigan’s stunning crime yarn
 

There are certain newspaper columnists who entertain - sardonic, scathing humour does it for me, every time. There are others with whom I cannot help but agree, and who I turn to for reassurance that it’s the world that’s going mad, not me.

There are still others, although not many, who I read for the sheer quality of their prose, wishing that I could write as well as they. There is only one in Ireland who ticks all these boxes for me on a weekly basis, and that is Gene Kerrigan at the Sunday Independent.

Back-paging a columnist who represents the ideological antithesis of practically everything else that goes on in a newspaper may seem like an act of perverse incongruity, but it is a clever move, because Kerrigan lends a texture to the product that would otherwise be lacking.

In an increasingly market researched world, the canny newspaper editor will encourage diversity, as a means of maintaining reader interest, and therefore sales.

However, deviations into fiction by pin-sharp columnists have a habit of going astray, once the constraints of the quarter or half-page article are lifted.

A minor, if hugely entertaining scuffle occurred in the British press earlier this year when Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote a thriller called The Righteous Men, which their regular reviewer Michael Dibdin tore to pieces.

Except the Guardian did not print Dibdin’s review. When it was rejected, he sent it to the (London) Times instead.

In journalistic circles, this is simply not done, the acting assumption being that one day, you will have your own book out, when all the back-scratching will be duly repaid.

So, before proceeding with Kerrigan’s second fiction offering, The Midnight Choir, may I state that I’ve never met the man, and have only spoken to him once, when he declined (as he usually does) to do a radio interview.

Producers out there might be interested to know that the normally reticent Kerrigan is billed, in his press material at least, as being ‘available’.

Like its predecessor, Little Criminals, his new novel is a modern Irish crime story, this one revolving around two principal characters, a desperate working-class female repeat offender called Dixie Peyton, and the unusually upright Garda Detective Inspector Harry Synott.

Crime, for Kerrigan, represents the nexus where all the interesting aspects of modern Ireland congregate for dissection. One of the many sharply drawn characters in The Midnight Choir, for example, is a female cop obsessed by house prices.

Early in the book we get a devastatingly simple portrait of a smug, middle-class family whose son is accused of rape.

Dixie makes her entrance mugging a couple with a blood-filled syringe but gradually, and without sentimentalising her, we see how life might perhaps get this way.

The quality of the writing is stunning throughout. Rather than using the extra space to breathe, Kerrigan’s prose is even more terse, deadpan and pointed than one expects from his newspaper columns. Descriptive passages, where they extend beyond the odd adjective, are wildly evocative.

Only the other day, I was searching for words to describe the glossy, over-groomed appearance of a Dublin yuppie.

I yelped with admiration and frustration when I read this: ‘‘The surface of the solicitor’s face wasn’t just washed, shaved and after-shaved, it seemed to have a veneer, like maybe every day when Mr Egan finished breakfast he took his face to a team of vestal virgins and they spent an hour buffing it with exotic leaves.”

As with all crime novels, it won’t do to give too much of the plot away. But believe me, you want The Midnight Choir with you on holiday.

I devoured it in two evenings, such is its elegant, fast moving economy, and the speed with which the story absorbs and unfolds.

This is the kind of book you pass on to someone you like, and say ‘read this’. If every novel has a character that is an avatar for the author, I can only wonder how much more of a scourge on the brave new Ireland Gene Kerrigan would have been if he’d become a cop, instead of a journalist.

Reviewed by Stephen Price