Last weekend I had fun telling you about some of my favorite Irish historical mysteries. This weekend it's the turn of a very special breed: the private investigators. The very best of them aren't in it for the money. They seem to be in it for the thrill of the chase, the fun of solving a puzzle, and the rush of bringing a villain to justice. Their hours are even more uncertain than those of their cousins, the police, and the lack of sleep brings a grittier feel to the proceedings.
More than any other sub genre of crime fiction, the terms most associated with private investigators are noir, violent, and hardboiled. There can be a strong sense of moral ambiguity, and although justice may be reached, the world remains an unfair place. In many ways, this is a sub genre that tends to be preferred by men-- but there are women (like me) who don't mind an occasional walk on the wild side.
Love 'em or hate 'em, private investigators are a major part of crime fiction, and Ireland has some of the best. For this installment of Celebrating Mysteries, I'd like to bring attention to three of them: Ed Loy, Karl Kane and Jack Taylor.
Ed Loy is the creation of Irish playwright Declan Hughes, and is the sort of P.I. who would rather fight his way out of a situation than sit around and think about it. He's been based in Los Angeles, California, for twenty years, but the death of his mother brings him home to Ireland to settle her affairs in the first book of the series, The Wrong Kind of Blood, which won the 2007 Shamus Award for Best First Novel.
There are currently five books in this series, which has been praised for the development of its main characters as well as its vivid portrayals of the streets of Dublin:
The Wrong Kind of Blood (2006)
The Color of Blood (2007)
The Price of Blood (2008)
All the Dead Voices (2009)
City of Lost Girls (2010)
Here's what Booklist had to say about Hughes' first Ed Loy book, The Wrong Kind of Blood:
PI Edward Loy returns to Ireland from California to bury his mother and lands himself in a knotty thicket of iniquity, as the Irish real-estate boom unearths old corpses and creates a few new ones. Retained by a profligate lady friend to find her missing husband, Loy wades into the labyrinthine dealings of two conspicuous families, the land-developing Dawsons and the drug-dealing Halligans, who may have more in common than either would like to admit. Loy is the sort of brash PI who would as soon use his head for inflicting blunt-force trauma as for cogitation. Hughes vividly conveys the sights, sounds, and smells of the Dublin streets.
Author Sam Millar has a life fit for the movies. His memoir, On the Brinks, tells (amongst other things) the true story of one of America's biggest robberies-- and a pardon from President Clinton.
His creation, Karl Kane, is a likable, non-sexist, and non-violent man living in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but once he is placed in a violent situation, he does what needs to be done.
So far, there are two Karl Kane books, and I know of many readers who are eagerly awaiting a third.
The Dark Place (2009)
Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about the first book in the series, Bloodstorm:
At the start of this powerful first of a new crime series from Irish author Millar, wild dogs finish off a battered gang-rape victim, left for dead in a unused quarry outside Belfast one summer day in 1978. Decades later, someone is picking off the men responsible for this outrage. At the behest of a shadowy employer, PI Karl Kane investigates the death of one of the rapists, whose body turns up in the city's Botanic Gardens. Flashbacks to the 1960s, when a young boy witnessed his mother's murder and narrowly escaped death at her killer's hands, help build suspense as their relevance to the present-day murders slowly and chillingly comes into focus. Millar adds police corruption to the mix to make Kane's search for the truth even more troublesome.
I have to be honest with all of you and admit that my favorite Irish P.I. is the third on my list-- Jack Taylor. He doesn't even like to be called a private investigator because, to Irish ears, it sounds too much like "informer".
As written by award-winning author, Ken Bruen, Jack Taylor is a man so beset by demons that even those readers with little tolerance for such lost souls can't help but be moved and hope that-- somehow, some way-- things will finally go Jack's way. Jack Taylor is a character who walks right off the page and into a reader's mind and heart.
Currently there are eight books in the Jack Taylor series. All are lean, mean, and beautifully written.
The Guards (2001)
The Killing of the Tinkers (2002)
The Magdalen Martyrs (2003)
The Dramatist (2004)
The Devil (2010)
Here's what the Library Journal had to say about Jack Taylor's first appearance in The Guards:
Jack Galway's life is spiraling downward. Dumped from the Garda Siochana ("the Guards"), Ireland's elite police force, he now passes his days drinking in a friend's bar. Enter Ann Henderson, a woman searching for her missing daughter. Jack agrees to take on her case, learning about Ann's daughter as well as other young women who have recently disappeared. Soon, he becomes personally involved with his client and her plight and works toward resolving it despite a strange sense of hopelessness that hangs over the action. While there is ultimately some form of resolution, first novelist Bruen makes no effort to tie everything up in a neat and happy ending. The writing is less hard-boiled than lyrical, with a definite edge that perfectly fits the story.
Are any of you fans of Hughes, Millar or Bruen? Speak up if I totally ignored your own favorite Irish P.I.!
Next weekend, I'll continue to Celebrate Irish Mysteries by taking a look at some Irish police officers. Bring your own list, and we'll compare!