Monday, August 30, 2010

The considerable appeal of Peeler

Kevin McCarthy's Peeler is like Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy (The Damned Season, Carte Blanche, Via delle Oche): a vivid, sometimes stunning evocation of a historical period through one police officer's life.

Here, the officer is Sgt. Seán O'Keefe of the newly despised Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence in 1920. (The novel's title refers to a popular term for English and Irish police, derived from Sir Robert Peel, creator of the RIC and, later, of London's Metropolitan Police.)

As in Lucarelli's books, competing military and police forces, not always in this case divided neatly along national or religious lines, complicate the protagonist's moral, personal and professional lives. O'Keefe and colleagues are called on to investigate the murder of a young woman mutilated and left on a hill wearing a misspelled "traitor" sign.

Some on the British side are eager to blame the IRA — which has, in the meantime, launched its own, parallel investigation and is just as eager to blame Auxiliaries or "Auxies," a feared group within the RIC.

Mostly, though, at least through its first two thirds, the novel offers affecting portraits of rural and urban poverty in West Cork, moral uncertainty, and aching nostalgia for a time very recently passed, before the shooting started, when life seemed much simpler.

I don't know who will solve the mystery or how the case will be resolved (I've just guessed at the killer's identity, though I have no great confidence my guess is right), but in its evocation of its period, of what a war that no one seems quite sure is a war can do to people, Peeler is already one of the top books I've read this year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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2 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Are you sure the title doesn't refer to Gypsy Rose Lee, Blaze Starr or Carol Doda? ;)

September 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, I've finished the book, and I can confirm that it does not refer in any way to members of that profession. Prostitutes figure in the story, and much is made of the puritanism of some IRA men (OK, not the most approporiate word religiously, but you get the message), but no strippers here.

September 02, 2010  

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