THE COLOUR OF BLOOD is the second Ed Loy novel by Declan Hughes, the first being The Wrong Kind of Blood, published in 2006.
Ed Loy is a Private Investigator in current day Dublin, Ireland - a place that's part gritty, poor, desperate and part rich, privileged, twisted. Shane Howard is a Dublin dentist, and the son of Dr John Howard, a pillar of Dublin Irish Society, famous in the local area, with a legacy that is maintained by his family. Shane's 19 year old daughter Emily has gone missing and now he is getting blackmail threats and sexually explicit photographs of her - Shane is not sure if she's being abused or if she's a willing participant.
What starts off as a fairly straight-forward job locating the missing Emily and tracking down the source of the photographs rapidly gets more and more complicated as digging around in the Howard family starts to reveal a lot of skeletons in everyone's closets.
There are a few reasons why you'd wonder if this was a good book or not. There's the tortured, embittered, lost, hard-drinking PI in Ed but for many reasons he may teeter on the edge of the cliché, but he never quite tips over. There's the wealthy, seemingly successful Howard family, rotten to the core with all sorts of secrets and tacky goings on, but stereotypical in many ways, however there's something engaging, human, interesting in many of the members of that family.
There are a lot of subplots in THE COLOUR OF BLOOD. As Emily is found and the blackmailers are being tracked down, there are events in and surrounding the family from years ago, leading up to current day, that are rapidly revealed. The book roars along at a rapid pace with revelation and resolution overlapping themselves at every twist.
There's also a great sense of irony, of gentle humour, the cast of characters certainly help with that. The dentist Shane, whose Medical Doctor father never quite "approved" of his choice of career. Sandra, the Irish Princess, sister of Shane, family manipulator, she of the vaguely Gothic look, swooping down from the family estates to rescue Emily and her son Jonathan. Jonathan and his purposely put on private school boy touches. None of these humorous touches are overdone but they balance the brutality of many of the other aspects of the novel.
Finally, there's a great sense of place in THE COLOUR OF BLOOD. Current day Dublin with its wealth, opportunity, developers and 21st century values are contrasted brutally against the greed, exploitation, societal manipulation, hypocrisy, criminal gangs, drugs and violence. And ultimately that's the crux of the whole book - if something's rotten at the core, then it doesn't matter a damn where that something is positioned on the social scale - the damage lingers and it will come back to bite you.
THE ASSASSIN'S GALLERY - David L Robbins
In March, 1945 American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt was at his retreat at Warm Springs resting before an anticipated appearance at the founding conference of the United Nations. He had become increasingly frail and ill into his 4th term as President, but this had been kept from the public, so his death, from a cerebral haemorrhage, was a shock for the nation. When he died he was sitting for a portrait painting by the artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff, the painting now a famous work known as the Unfinished Portrait of FDR. Amongst others present at Warm Springs was Lucy Mercer, his former mistress and long time close personal friend. The circumstances, location and people present at Roosevelt's death are all a matter of fact. THE ASSASSINS GALLERY simply proposes that his death was not really from natural causes and he was the victim of a well covered up assassination?
THE ASSASSINS GALLERY opens with a wetsuit clad swimmer stepping from a cold Atlantic Ocean on New Year's eve. Cool, efficient, and very experienced, this assassin will despatch anybody who interferes with the mission. The only clue to their even being in the country is the inadvertent leaving of an unusual and ancient knife at the site of a murder that night. The connection is only picked up by chance and Professor Mikhal Lemmeck, an expert on the history and weaponry of Assassins and his ex-student Nabbit, now a Secret Service Agent, need to work out where she is, who she is here to kill, and that she really exists. Yes, she, the other twist in THE ASSASSINS GALLERY is that the Assassin is a woman, using the name Judith. In end of War America, where so much of the workforce and local populace is female, so many men being away at the war.
THE ASSASSINS GALLERY mixes up the facts around FDR, America and American society in the dying days of WWII with the story of Judith. Judith is a Persian Muslim woman, an experienced assassin, she alone knows who she is working for, and who she is here to kill, as well as knowing she has a limited time in which to get to FDR. The story of how she goes about infiltrating Government circles is fascinating and very clever. Passing herself off as a Creole-Black woman from New Orleans she is able to move backwards and forwards in white and black circles seamlessly, finally choosing to work as a domestic in the homes of people in government circles to move her way gradually closer to FDR.
Despite some niggling concerns about the convenience of having a Muslim Assassin as it's central character, THE ASSASSINS GALLERY is saved from the possibility of a villain of convenience. The motivation for the assassination is not revealed until the end, and Judith herself, is not a stereotype. She's ruthless, able, quick, unapologetic but not without human compassion and feeling. She also makes no bones about the fact that she is an assassin - it's what she does. The book moves along at a clipping pace, with the tension being double focused. Firstly the increasing pressure on Judith to get into a position where she can kill FDR, in a very closed circle, with the complication of FDR's failing health making him less accessible. On the other hand Lemmeck and Nabbit struggle to work out how to get a lead on their suspected assassin, the intended victim, the method - anything that will give them a hint where to go next.
THE ASSASSINS GALLERY has all the elements of a good thriller, it's entertaining, engaging, it has enough things that are believable and save you from having to suspend your disbelief too far. Working the premise into a known historical situation, would normally turn me off a bit, but in this case it worked really really well. Possibly this is because the only playing with the reader's understanding of the truth of history is in the final event, the death of FDR. Everything in the lead up fits into the known society at the time so effortlessly that just for a few seconds, you do wonder...
BROKEN BODIES - June Hampson
BROKEN BODIES is a follow-up to the author's first book TRUST NOBODY so many of the characters and their back story come from that first novel. Perhaps this is part of the reason why BROKEN BODIES was a bit of a slog to read, as many characters appear rapidly in quick succession in the early part of the book, talking the patois of the English gangster, talking about each other - dead or alive, it wasn't always easy to distinguish - as if the reader was acutely aware of who everyone was and what had happened in the past. There was a little backfill as the story progressed but that initial opening had this reader floundering from the start and I never really recovered a sense of involvement in the book from there.
Eventually, as the story progresses it becomes obvious that the book is set in the sixties - heavy handed references to the Beatles; big hair; mini-skirts and other icons from the era place you firmly in the correct timeline for the story. The remainder of the characters tend a little towards the stereotypical - the Kray Twins were just a loveable pair of rascals; brothel workers have hearts of gold; and brothel proprietors are caring and concerned - except for the odd bad apple of course.
Of course the story that is being told is gritty and rough as - gangsters behaving badly to each other can't be told in highly refined English - but the patois was hard to follow on occasions. There is also a very high level of explicit, and frequently sexual, violence which becomes desperately repetitive and therefore starts to lack any impact. If you're the sort of reader that is fussed about high levels of mayhem and bad language you might have to avoid BROKEN BODIES.
In the end, looking carefully at the author's bio she is obviously writing about a world that is very real to her and the book is in all likelihood a very realistic portrayal of that world. Unfortunately the atmosphere's pretty thick on occasions, the direness just too unremitting and the characters just a bit too much to let a story of any sort show through.