Patrick's Reviews > Hawthorn & Child

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway
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Aug 23, 12

Read from August 20 to 22, 2012

I started out thinking that this book was something fairly familiar: a dry, hard nut of a black comedy crime novel, something in the vein of Roddy Doyle or Martin Amis when he was good. But it isn’t really like either of those writers. And though it does call to mind certain pop culture tropes – notably the great British traditions of the oddball detective story (everything from Holmes to ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Randall and Hopkirk Deceased’) and the semi-mythical gentleman gangsters of yesteryear -- it’s actually quite different to anything I’ve read in a while. And it’s really very good.

What we have here could be described as a series of interlinked stories. In the first, detectives Hawthorn and Child are investigating an (apparently) random shooting in which a young and (apparently) quite innocent man is almost killed on his way to work – shot, he insists, by a car. (Not by its passenger.) I expected the rest of the book to be an investigation into this crime, but instead the following chapter/story takes off in a different direction entirely, and then the next one branches off after that, and so on and so forth. There are plenty of crimes but they all seem utterly impenetrable: it is impossible that they could ever be ‘solved’ in any meaningful sense, just as it seems impossible that this book could ever be satisfactorily concluded. (And it isn't. But that might be okay.)

I don’t want to spoil too much but there are some amazing and weird and brilliantly inspired stories here. It seems horribly inadequate to say that there is a great juxtaposition between a gay orgy and a line of policemen beating down on a crowd of protestors, or a chapter where a teenage girl thinks about boys and modern art; or (maybe most striking of all) the relentlessly paranoid narrative of a mentally ill man who is convinced he has been given a virus after shaking hands with Tony Blair, a sequence which is both a compelling portrait of a mind in disintegration and a surprisingly lucid political rant about the failings of New Labour:

‘...However, Islington council, my landlords, my sister (against her entire knowledge), and the NHS are trying to kill me. Trying to enable circumstances (to arise) in which my death becomes inevitable. They are involved in an unconscious, unarticulated conspiracy to kill me in other words. It’s not a plot. It’s nothing so straightforward as a plot. No one can be blamed in any individual way. It is an inevitable, beaurocratic conspiracy, so devolved and deniable as to be invisible; so peculiarly set out in rules and procedures and protocols and directives and guidelines as to allow plausible public denial of responsibility on the part of any of the participants at any stage of the process...’

‘...When they write the report, my report, the report into my case, they will find some systemic failures, some culture of this or that, some procedures for tightening, some lessons to be learned. No heads will roll. Dead children. You understand me.’

It’s as though each character were an enormous room in a giant house in which everything is interconnected and yet in which the only true constants are Hawthorn and Child, a pair mainly distinguished by their singular ordinariness, both a bit lost in this strange and deeply mysterious world.

There are very few books that I wish wouldn’t end by the end. This is probably one of them.
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