Saturday, June 23, 2007

One from Scotland, one from Ireland

There's an interesting similarity between two novels that I've just begun reading, beyond the blood in their titles: Both muse uneasily upon the new prosperity of their settings, Edinburgh in Gillian Galbraith's Blood on the Water, Dublin in Declan Hughes' The Wrong Kind of Blood.

In Galbraith's novel, Detective Sgt. Alice Rice investigates a series of murders "among Edinburgh's professional elite in the well-to-do New Town." In Hughes', the narrator observes of Dublin's upscale shopping district that "It had a sleek sheen to it now, a brash, unapologetic confidence about itself that had been thin on the ground in Ireland twenty years before. It also had a derelict in every doorway" and even more acidly on a financial complex that "made Dublin look like any other city. I guess that was the point: at one stage in our history, we tried to assert a unique Irish identity by isolating ourselves from the outside world. All that did was cause half the population to emigrate. Now we preferred to avoid distinctive national characteristics of any kind."

Beyond their attitudes about prosperity and globalization, each novel has distinctive characteristics in its early pages. Galbraith's dialogue may not be the sharpest, but she knows how to make a victim's death shocking by playing it down. And she paints vivid pictures of her overworked police officers not by creating new types, but by performing the perhaps more difficult feat of revitalizing old ones.

Rice, like many another hard-working police protagonist, feels estranged from her colleagues, but her alienation has a real edge. Her "gender, resolute middle-classness and graduate status all marked her off as alien within the force, and now even in the civilian world she often found herself adrift. ... The point of contact between her world and that of her friends seemed to be growing fewer as time passed." Even better is this: "DCI Bell looked pale, ivory white with blue-black rings bordering her eyes, unconcealable by any make-up. She was a workaholic, and her addiction, knowingly nurtured by her superiors, was destroying her health." (Italics mine.)

The Hughes looks as if it will be a convincing take on the private-eye noir, complete with a randy femme fatale, a missing relative, money, lawyers, and a wisecrack now and then. The wisecracks can be wryer and darker than the usual run of the species, though, as here, from the novel's short prologue: "Planning a murder in advance doesn't guarantee that you cut down on blood, although it can help."

And how's this for an opening, from Chapter One: "The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband."

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be interested to see what you make of Blood in the Water when you have finished it. You've picked up a detail that although I noticed, I did not "process" - the aspect about the superiors -- and also you've captured very well the way the author makes the deaths have impact.
I found that the police procedural aspects were weak, and the whole story seemed to lack context somehow, like reading about events taking place in a bubble -- but I'll say no more until you have finished. Its a short book so because of the time difference you probably will have finished it by the time you read this comment!

June 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting - Wrong Kind of Blood sits on my TBR pile, I wasn't aware of Blood in the Water, but given yours and maxine's recommendation, and that it's a short back - I do like a nice short book :), I will have to look at getting hold of a copy

June 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm finding Blood in the Water an intriguing prospect because of its maddening weaknesses and outstanding strengths. I'm just a few pages into Galbraith's first novel, and I'm already looking forward to her second to see if she can punch up her dialogue and tighten her descriptions while maintaining the flair for lending impact to killings and those fine character portraits.

June 24, 2007  

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