Gene Kerrigan’s new police procedural, THE RAGE (Europa, paper, $17), isn’t your typical Irish crime novel with moody cops and colorful crooks who talk like poets and act like animals. The singular characters who go about their business in Dublin’s crippled economy may be on opposite sides of the law, but in Kerrigan’s book they’re all working-class stiffs struggling to get by.
Everybody seems to have an opinion on the depressed state of the nation. “The politicians fell in love with the smart fellas,” according to an old union man, “and in the end it was the smart fellas broke the country in pieces.” That’s pretty close to a midlevel gangster’s view that “the big boys got too greedy, ran everything off a cliff.”
It falls to public servants like Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey to keep this barely contained anger from getting out of hand, as it does when an unknown party guns down a banker named Emmet Sweetman in the hallway of his tastefully appointed mansion. In no time at all, people are tossing Molotov cocktails into banks and beating up financiers and real estate developers. While the Sweetman case hovers in limbo, Kerrigan sets in motion a criminal scheme that gives all the principals a chance to exercise their individual work ethics.
One key player in this drama is Vincent Naylor, a young ex-con with ambitions to better himself by being more selective about his crooked pursuits. (“The next time Vincent Naylor went to jail it would be for something worthwhile.”) It’s a class thing with Vincent. He makes a point of robbing snobby stores that sell merchandise at inflated “Celtic Tiger prices” and figures that knocking off an armored security truck loaded with bank money would be almost patriotic. By the time Vincent’s plan is good to go, he has acquired an extensive group of criminal associates — and caught the eye of an ex-nun who knows trouble when she sees it.
Kerrigan’s clean, spare style adapts smoothly to the striving characters who lend their many voices to this narrative. The crooks may be more direct in their language and clear about their goals than the morally ambivalent Tidey. What’s more striking, though, is the similarity of their aspirations and the familiarity of their discontents. (Vincent actually has a healthier relationship with his live-in girlfriend than Tidey does with his ex-wife, sneaking in and out of her bed so he won’t upset their children.)
Beneath the skin all these characters are underdogs, snarling with rage at being kicked too long by the crooked politicians, bankers and other looters who ran their country into the ground.