Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Declan Hughes #3

The third Ed Loy novel by Declan Hughes continues to explore the wealthy and middle class families of Dublin, but with a somewhat broader social eye as well: the horsey set, from owners and trainers through jockeys and hangers on, is the primary focus of the crime and the novel, but public housing estates and crimes usually associated with such settings also appear. The title of the book depends on your location: In the U.S. it's The Price of Blood, continuing the "blood" series of Hughes's titles and picking up on the Judas theme of the novel; in the U.K., it's The Dying Breed, emphasizing another theme, the bloodlines of horses and also people (with an additional suggestion of families prone to violent death, a theme in all Hughes's novels so far). The story is character-driven, and Hughes once again shows his background in drama: the characters are individually well drawn, but come to life especially in their interactions with one another. The story is also dramatic, in the sense that is it has the structure of a tragedy rooted in family history. The gangsters that have haunted the books are back again, in a slightly different assortment of the Halligan family, as well as the pro- and con-Loy police and other running characters--more fully realized than the minor characters in some crime fiction, and without the usual cliches of speech or action. The story relies to a very large extent on the lies that people tell, or the information they withhold, from Loy and from each other. Loy bounces from one set of assumptions to another, as the truth, or some fragment of it, unfolds. The plot works better at the level of metaphor than as a reasonable story, but it's really the writing that holds the book together, a fluid and allusive style that fits very well with the symbolic rather than rational storyline. And after all, the plots of Hammett or Chandler don't always make straightforward sense, and Hughes is operating, as I said, at the level of tragedy rather than slice-of-life fiction. There is, however, a self-mutilation that I find difficult to swallow (I'm making a little joke, but I won't spoil the plot by explaining it here). But Loy's voice as narrator is solid and believable: he's lively, without being overtly clever or glib like some crime narrators, to keep the reader on his side. And the rhythm and flow of Hughes's prose style is rare eloquence in the field of crime fiction.

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