McKinty's second Sean Duffy novel builds on the quality of the first. Duffy is a fascinating and realistic character, and the plot is satisfyingly twi...moreMcKinty's second Sean Duffy novel builds on the quality of the first. Duffy is a fascinating and realistic character, and the plot is satisfyingly twisted, keeping the reader guessing without getting confused. The writing is splendid, with some quiet humour and a poetic quality that McKinty is careful not to over-indulge.
A torso is found in a suitcase. Before Duffy and his colleagues can identify the killer, they need to identify the victim. Superbly plotted, the novel takes the reader down dead ends (and some deceptively not-so-dead ends) as Duffy encounters a cast of believable characters and a sub-plot of an attractive young widow, who might or might not be involved in the main plot. Some characters don't really come into the investigation, which keeps the reader guessing, but provide social context or maintain the continuity between this novel and the last (and probably the next).
The Ulster of 1982 is realistically portrayed (albeit with some justified dramatic licence) and the attitudes of the security forces are just as I remember them from news reports of the time and my brother's accounts from serving there with the British Army in 1979 and 1981. It's a nice touch that the author always mentions Duffy checking his car for bombs every time he leaves home: it's deliberately repetitive, emphasising the mood of permanent vigilance and justified paranoia for a policeman in what was practically a failed state.
Duffy has to navigate the nightmare maze of organisations with conflicting interests: the alphabet soup of RUC, IRA, UDR, UDA, MI5 and even FBI and IRS, with the DeLorean car plant adding to the political confusion. The recurring biblical quote of "through a glass, darkly" adds to the confusion and mystery.
These are the elements that create the approving comparisons with Ian Rankin, who is the master of the modern British detective story. The title bears little relation to the story, and the minor quibbles I had with the first book in the series, The Cold Cold Ground, apply to a lesser degree with this one, but these aren't significant enough to detract from an excellently written novel. (less)
Zandri is by no means a master of the crime genre, but Murder By Moonlight is a good read with a complex plot, clearly defined characters and a few go...moreZandri is by no means a master of the crime genre, but Murder By Moonlight is a good read with a complex plot, clearly defined characters and a few good twists along the way. His writing is sparse, while the division into short chapters – sixty-six in all, some of them no longer than a single page – ensures a fast-paced story.
Overall, it's a fun read, and if crime is your favourite genre then you'll probably enjoy this.
It isn't perfect. Some of the situations don't ring true and nor do all the characters. Calling your detective 'Dick Moonlight' and having him drive his late father's hearse seems a bit too contrived. You can't blame Zandri for making Moonlight a divorced, 40-something borderline alcoholic with personal 'issues' because almost every detective since Marlowe has been that. Ian Rankin gets away with it, so why shouldn't Vincent Zandri? But Moonlight's got a much younger, hot, intelligent, artist girlfriend and almost every woman he meets is young, hot, intelligent and seems to fancy him. Being a divorced, 40-something borderline alcoholic with personal 'issues' myself, I can safely say this is not the norm. Maybe I should trade in the BMW for a hearse.
A plot twist should be a surprise the moment you read it but seem inevitable two seconds later. Zandri's plot twists are surprising alright, but some of them seem to come completely out of the blue, and the 'dark secret' at the heart of the town seemed a bit clichéd. Once or twice Moonlight seems to guess the truth from nothing and I can't for the life of me see how he worked it out. One time he returns to the murder scene for no other reason than "something tells me…". That's not really good enough.
'Murder By Moonlight' is far from a classic, and the fact that it's Zandri's ninth full-length novel suggests that he's never going to write a classic. But it's not pulp either, and fans of detective stories will enjoy reading it on the beach.(less)
All the boxes are ticked: a mysterious serial killer, a suicide that possibly isn't, plus the political turmoil of Northern Ireland in 1981 during the...moreAll the boxes are ticked: a mysterious serial killer, a suicide that possibly isn't, plus the political turmoil of Northern Ireland in 1981 during the hunger strikes. And the only person who won't settle for the easy answers is a Catholic policeman with a university degree and a penchant for Deep Purple. What, a rogue cop? In a modern crime thriller? You've got it. This could so easily descend into cliché. Fortunately it doesn't, and for two good reasons.
First, McKinty has set it in an unfamiliar place for this genre. Northern Ireland didn't "do" serial killers. What would be the point? If you had a psychopathic urge to destroy your fellow man, there were plenty of organisations that would not just turn a blind eye but give you a helping hand in the name of God and country. And it's a place and time he knows intimately, so the detail is authentic. The Troubles are never just background, but are intricately woven into the story.
Second, he's done a lot of work on the characters, making them all rounded and plausible. The only possible complaint is that, as a Catholic, Sean doesn't get more stick from his work colleagues, who are all Protestants and would view any Catholic copper as a potential Fifth Columnist. The only way to prove your loyalty was to get murdered by the IRA or INLA.
It's carefully plotted and vibrantly written. The tension and pace never let up for a moment. The blurb compares it to David Peace, which is true in that there are some very poetic moments and the period detail is grimily authentic, but overall it's more reminiscent of Ian Rankin, especially with DS Duffy's musical predilictions. Either way, that's high praise.
Down sides? Only a couple. Near the end (and this isn't a spoiler), there's the equivalent of the scene where the bad guy gives the old "before I kill you, I'll tell you how I did it so you can appreciate my evil genius as you die, HAHAHA!" speech. It's unnecessary. And McKinty is too fond of describing his characters' appearances, so he makes the rookie mistake of having the hero study himself in the mirror and describe his own looks (this was covered in the excellent How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published, under the heading "What color am I? Where the character has to be in front of a mirror to know what she looks like". And why is it called "The Cold Cold Ground", when all the bodies are found above ground (and, in one case, a good few feet above it)?
Those quibbles aside, McKinty has come up with a corker and I'll be looking forward to more.(less)
Leonard brings the LA noir of Chandler and Hammett up to date (well, 1990) in a classy piece of fiction that retains the noir as well as the humour th...moreLeonard brings the LA noir of Chandler and Hammett up to date (well, 1990) in a classy piece of fiction that retains the noir as well as the humour that's the trademark of the genre. The first joke (though it isn't obvious) is that the title refers to Miami hustler Chili's attempts to get a major - and deceptively diminuitive - Hollywood star to be in a movie he's dreamt up and pitched to a B-movie producer.
Unlike focused heroes like Spade and Marlowe, Chili is a chancer. He's loan shark who's only in Hollywood chasing up a debt that's got him in trouble with the mob back home, but he has all the chutzpah of the 40s heroes and an uncanny ability to bluff his way into any opportunity and out of any trouble in ways that are just plausible enough for fiction.
The action is fast, the wisecracks are good and the characters believable and sometimes even likeable. Leonard isn't quite up there with Chandler, but he's plenty good enough. (less)
This is the fourth of Chandler's novels I've read (along with a few short stories), and it's easily his weakest. There are very little of his telling...moreThis is the fourth of Chandler's novels I've read (along with a few short stories), and it's easily his weakest. There are very little of his telling and unique imagery, and the plot is at best workmanlike. Marlowe is his sardonic self and the plot has its usual complexity, but one gets the sense he isn't really trying here.
The denoument is a longish lecture by Marlowe, and even he admits half-way through that he's getting sick of the sound of his own voice. It's hard to disagree. It's recognisably Chandler, but it's not really to be recommended. His heart wasn't in it. (less)
As someone fed up with trite and clichéd Poirot dramas on ITV, I was surprised to be told that the books were really worth reading - starting with thi...moreAs someone fed up with trite and clichéd Poirot dramas on ITV, I was surprised to be told that the books were really worth reading - starting with this one. I had an inkling what the famous plot twist was, but it still seemed pretty obvious even before the famous Belgian detective arrived. He only served to muddy the waters, creating confusion where none had existed before. It's very formulaic - although we can perhaps forgive Christie since she largely invented the formula - but the book does rattle along nicely and is well-written. All in all, it's what it's intended to be: a light, enjoyable story that can be knocked off in a few hours. (less)
Not so much a novel; in places "1980" is abstract poetry. Peace keeps as light a hand as possible on the plot, allowing the story to emerge through fr...moreNot so much a novel; in places "1980" is abstract poetry. Peace keeps as light a hand as possible on the plot, allowing the story to emerge through fractured dialogue, agonised thought processes. There is almost no explanation of events, the reader has to feel them instead. While some will find this irritatingly frustrating, anyone prepared to concentrate will be richly rewarded. "1980" only gives back what you put into it. (less)