Friday, June 29, 2007

A sprawling multigenerational story of love, loss, violence, self-discovery and redemption!!! (The Wrong Kind of Blood)

All through my reading of Declan Hughes' violent, funny debut novel, The Wrong Kind of Blood, a television mini-series kept breaking out, complete with family secrets, portentous symbols and dramatic revelations. Thing is, the storytelling is good enough that the weightiness rarely gets in the way, and when it does, Hughes has a knack like none other I've ever seen of blowing away the heaviness with a laugh-out-loud funny line. Here's an example I especially liked:

He told me that when his father was dying, he summoned George to his hospital bed in private and made him swear that if ever Barbara Dawson needed anything, George was to supply it, no questions asked. ... He didn't know whether she was his father's half sister. He didn't have an opinion one way or the other. Family was a pain in the bollocks.

In the same vein, a scene of two killers confessing their crime spices its Hammett-style end-of-the-novel revelation with this: "You threw up," XXXXXX said, not unaffectionately, to YYYYYY." The exchange recapitulates a killing Hughes had shown us earlier, in all its agony, violence, stink and fear. That the two scenes, so different in tone, are about the same event is the best touch in the novel, distilling in a few pages the ugliness, death, rivalry, nostalgia and humor that pervade the book. (Names removed to avoid plot spoilers.)

I posted earlier about the skeptical eyes Hughes casts on Ireland's newfound wealth. Hughes' protagonist, Ed Loy, is situated ideally to make such observations, having just returned from Ireland after many years in California. And he's returned for his mother's funeral, which plunges him right back into the old neighborhood, with its ghosts, disappointments and wounds never healed — and into the arms of the sexy Dubliner who asks Loy to find her husband. And that leads him into a world of drugs, family rivalries, crooked land deals and political corruption.

Families, of course, are the source for some of our oldest drama, and Hughes works that venerable territory on several levels. Three sets of parent-child rivalries from the novel leap immediately to mind, and other familial tensions are all over the place. Loy has lost his wife and his daughter — and his return to Ireland leads him to a search for his long-missing father. A small-time thug finds hope and help at the hands of his strong, determined girlfriend. And the rivalry between a new-breed gangster and his old-line, violent, thug of a brother threatens to explode.

But it never does, and in the end, while the novel's several minor and supporting characters receive the safety and salvation they deserve, justice is decidedly partial for the villains. And that, in the end, lends the novel a nice noir edge without, however, cheap and easy cynicism.
Read this January Magazine interview with Declan Hughes for Hughes' thoughts about his second book, his upbringing, his appreciation for Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and more. Hat tip to Crime Always Pays.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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