If any population has a right to be angry, it's the Irish (well, so do the Greeks, but that calls for a different novel). After centuries of economic depression, Ireland experienced a little over a decade of giddy prosperity. Their exiled sons and daughters returned from abroad to find jobs at home, they bought houses, the real estate market inflated and then, inevitably, collapsed and along with it, the entire Irish economy. Now, at the time this book is set, in 2010, the economy is still contracting, the Irish are once again exporting their children to find work abroad, and the general public mood appears to be a combination of cynicism and simmering, if suppressed, anger. But only barely suppressed. When corrupt banker Emmet Sweetman is gunned down in the doorway of his tastefully appointed mini-mansion, a wave of assaults on bankers and property developers breaks out and must be played down by the authorities: "If bloodying the noses of bankers and developers became fashionable, things could very quickly get out of control in a target-rich environment."
Sweetman's murder is but the first of many crimes that Bob Tidey, a detective sergeant in the Garda, will attempt to deal with in this new Dublin that has lost its former certainties but not its old bad habits. Indeed, Tidey commits one himself, early on, when he perjures himself in court to protect a couple of constables accused of excessive force in dealing with some drunken louts in a pub. Tidey is well-named - his instinct is to work toward restoring order without imposing it with a heavy hand. But the city is always teetering on the brink of chaos, barely holding itself together and always threatening to slip out of control.
The simplest deed can precipitate disaster. In this case, things fall apart rapidly once Maura Coady, whom Tidey has known for years, notices a car parked in front of her house where it shouldn't be. Maura is a retired nun, and she is carrying her own burden of guilt for what part she may have played in ignoring a priest's abuse of children and for the brutality which she herself and the sisters in her teaching order inflicted on the pupils in their care. One of the most subtle yet rivetting chapters in the book is the one in which she confesses her complicity in what she knows now but did not then was an appalling regime of power and excess. Tidey tries to comfort her: "It was a long time ago." Maura responds, "Tell that to the kids."
When Maura reports her suspicions about the parked car, she does so from the best of motives - she hopes she may somehow save a life by preventing a crime. She doesn't, and much of the action of the novel flows from her well-intentioned intervention.
THE RAGE is structurally complex and brilliantly paced. We begin essentially at the end in a kind of prologue foreshadowing the moment when Tidey will reluctantly come to a decision about what he must do. It is not an easy choice (and at this point the reader has no idea what it entails) There is, he thinks, "no good in this, no moral thing to do." He is in the grip of a panic attack that threatens to overwhelm him. But at last he gets hold of himself and submits to the inevitable: "No moral thing to do. But something had to be done."
Thereafter the book unfolds in a rapid burst of brief chapters in which we follow Vince Naylor, newly released from prison and struggling mightily to keep his temper in check and himself out of jail so that he can join his elder brother Noel in an elaborate armed robbery plot. These alternate with accounts of Tidey's daily rounds, his curious relationship with his ex-wife, his love of his daughter, the politics of the police investigation into Sweetman's murder, the tense unfolding of a series of crimes and their aftermath. Through all this, a bit like a latter-day Leopold Bloom, Bob Tidey walks through Dublin doing the best he can in the knowledge that his best, anyone's best, will never be good enough.
THE RAGE was the winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of 2012. It's an honour richly deserved. Complex, subtle, challenging, disturbing, moving, it will have readers holding their breaths and bring them sometimes to the brink of tears.