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Murder by the Book: "A perfect novel."

Date: Apr 12 2013


This is a perfect novel. It won the British Crime Writers Association's 2012 Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year. And well it should.

Irish journalist Gene Kerrigan's fourth crime novel is beautifully constructed, with sharp and relevant dialogue, and not a superfluous word to be found.

The Dublin worlds of Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey and small-time crook Vincent Naylor are about to collide. Tidey is a morally upright but practical police detective. He will probably never rise above his current designation because he doesn't play office politics very well. Vincent has just gotten out of jail for beating a stranger who had cursed at him. His brother, Noel, has an idea for a grand score. He's found a security company employee who can give them information about armored car deliveries. (Okay, I have only one nagging thought and it has to do with this robbery storyline. How could an armored car driver, who says he's an underpaid little cog in the wheel, know so much about the big boss' routine and passwords? Not important, but nagging nevertheless.)

At first, a reader will assume the rage of the title refers to Vincent's flash temper and manic violent streak. An example of that is one of the first scenes in the book. Tidey's temper isn't obvious. It's slow to rise and the rest of the book is an example of what happens when it's finally engaged.

The Dublin depicted in THE RAGE has fallen on hard financial times after crazy, heady spending and lending by government and banks. Kerrigan writes, "Everyone knew the money-go-round would keep spinning as long as two or three bad things didn't happen simultaneously -- then four or five bad things happened at once." As a result, there are a lot of white-collar criminals, not all of whom have been legally chastised. One of them, banker Emmet Sweetman, meets his final punishment when gunmen murder him in his home.

Tidey is called in to work on the Sweetman case. A lot of police characters, both higher and lower in status, drift through the book, but each is there for a reason, each advances the plot. Looming largest is Detective Rose Cheney who is Tidey's provisional partner for the case.

It is another example of Kerrigan's talent that he is able to sketch their characters with a minimal of fuss. Tidey's ex-wife and daughter briefly appear early in the book, and serve the purpose of showing Tidey's caring side. Off-hand comments by Cheney establish her as a wife and mother. Their work on developing the Sweetman case establishes their competence and devotion to work. "Bob Tidey," Kerrigan writes, "was in the law and order business, and whatever else went belly-up, there'd always be hard men and chancers and a need for someone to put manners on them."

In the meantime, Vincent and Noel plan an elaborate heist. Kerrigan once again excels in description, this time of the criminal world they live in, especially the violence that is a calling card left by minor and major hoods. Vincent navigates the criminal hierarchy and carefully chooses his crew. In his own way, he is as meticulous as Tidey in his police investigations. 

Vincent's heist eventually touches the life of ex-nun and teacher Maura Coady. She, too, it is revealed has had her own brush with rage, and it has colored her life. She is the focal point through which Tidey and Vincent eventually cross paths.

Cold rage dominates the last third of the book. Pay-back and justice serve both good and bad masters. Moral ambiguity and shaky rationalization are their lackeys. Kerrigan impeccably draws all the threads together into a surprising and thought-provoking denouement. Although the plotting is complex, Kerrigan takes great pains not to lose his readers. He draws and re-draws the connections by making use of his subsidiary characters in multiple contexts. THE RAGE is Kerrigan's master class in plotting and clarity.

The novel begins with a scene of Tidey overlooking the Liffey River and wrestling with a thought. There is "No moral thing to do. But something had to be done." Then the book jumps back a few days to show what led Tidey to that point. The last third of the book returns to that scene and the choice Tidey makes. This is clean and brilliant scene twinning, and a marvelous thought-provoking denouement.

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