Archive for the ‘detectives’ Tag

When a detective leaves town   Leave a comment

Even when detectives go on vacation, there’s always a crime scene nearby. What sets Devices and Desires by P.D. James apart from the pack is that Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgleish isn’t the one to solve it – at least not overtly.

Dalgleish has inherited his deceased aunt’s house, a converted lighthouse, on England’s Northern coast near a nuclear power plant. He leaves London to work on the house and to consider what to do with it.

A serial killer is on the loose in Norfolk, which keeps tensions taut. Known as “The Whistler”, the killer’s prey are young women. Yet, this is only one of the numerous threads running through the novel. The local authorities acknowledge Dalgliesh’s presence, but are determined to the find the culprit on their own. His eventual involvement is part of the mystery.

Chapters are brief, only one to four pages, and the story covers the period of a few weeks: September 15 to October 6.

The landscape descriptions are vivid, as are the townspeople’s quirks. Dalgliesh figures into many of James’ novels. Here he has just published his second book of poetry, which is less cause for celebration than might be expected. There’s an underlying cynicism regarding this accomplishment by many Dalgliesh comes into contact with.

Other themes include illicit liaisons and the dangers of atomic energy. The large number of characters also weighs down the narrative. Although some are intelligent and interesting, the problem is that there are too many to keep track of.

Devices and Desires

Three bookmarks

Warner Books, 1989

466 pages

Imperfect Investigator   Leave a comment

In The Hollow Man, British author Oliver Harris presents one of those multi-flawed detectives that have become so popular in recent crime fiction. Okay, maybe it’s not necessarily a recent trend, but his protagonist Nick Belsey is one ambiguous cop who seems to be nearly invisible to those around him given what he gets away with in plain view.

Belsey is a Detective Constable with the London Police and the hefty catalog of his indiscretions, mostly involving gambling, drinking and abuse of position, overshadows his negligible good qualities. Yet, as Harris provides more and more insight into his character’s personality, it’s clear that even though Belsey wears the good guy’s white hat, it is set exceptionally askew.

It appears that Belsey has hit rock bottom in his personal life, consisting primarily of self-destructive behaviors, which has caught up with his career. He’s facing a formal inquiry with a forced leave of absence looming over his head. Despite this, he becomes embroiled in a murder investigation which he links to a major financial crime and sees as an opportunity to (illegally) change his life.

The novel is engaging and full of dark humor. In spite of Belsey’s conduct, it’s impossible not to wonder if he’ll continue on his path to ruin or see the error of his ways. The major flaw comes in the form of Belsey simply flashing his badge to get near crime scenes and restricted information given that he should have either restricted or no access due to his own transgressions.

The Hollow Man
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Bourbon Street Books (HarperCollins), 2012
470 pages

Reckoning With the Criminal Element   1 comment


There’s a difference between mysteries and crime novels, which is evident in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage – and not just because the Crime Writer’s Association Award for the Best Crime Novel of the Year is advertised on the cover.

Kerrigan is a master storyteller whose characters, good and bad, aren’t black and white. The cops have a lot of gray areas, and the less-than-desirables do, too. Even, a nun falls somewhere in the middle, which has nothing to do with her habit.

Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey is part of the Dublin Garda (police), but not one of those strictly-by-the- rules kind of cops. He’s mostly driven by common sense, which tends to create some heartache for him and his superiors. At the other end of the law-and-order spectrum is Vincent Naylor, recently released from prison where he’d served time for a brutal assault, now in the midst of planning a major heist. Ironically, Tidey and Naylor never encounter one another, but their paths cross frequently –thanks to Maura Coady, a retired nun. Make no mistake, she’s no Saint.

Fraud, drugs, murder and misguided romance fill Kerrigan’s novel. Tidey is assigned to investigate a case that, ultimately, has only the thinnest a connection to Naylor. In fact, the robbery Naylor plans is gripping in its detail, but has nothing to do with Tidey; that is, until Maura Coady notices an unknown car parked on her quiet street. This is no mystery, but seeing the pieces of the story come together is captivating.

The Rage
Four Bookmarks
Europa Editions, 2012
313 pages