Written by a veteran journalist, this excellent Irish police procedural hits all the right notes as it follows three cases over the course of a week. At the center of the book is Detective Inspector Synnott, a highly skilled detective who's somewhat of a black sheep among the police force for reasons that aren't immediately revealed. However, the book opens in Galway, as two uniformed plods deal with a man about to jump off a building. After taking him into custody, they see he's covered in dried blood -- but whose blood that is, how it got there, and what this has to do with the rest of the story takes the course of the week to unravel.
Meanwhile, in Dublin, Synnott and his female partner, Detective Cheney, handle a rape case involving the son of a prominent businessman. When a jewelry store is robbed (in a great sequence the reader is privy to from start to end), Synnott concentrates on that, while Cheney heads the rape investigation. This is pretty straightforward procedural stuff, as Cheney digs into the rapist's past for evidence of past misdeeds, and Synnott is sure he knows who pulled the heist, but can't come up with any evidence. A fourth storyline involves Dixie Peyton, a desperate snitch of Synnott's, whose bright future as a young mother and fitness instructor was derailed several years ago by the death of her hoodlum husband.
While the weaving together of these four storylines would be entertaining enough, what makes it truly memorable is how Kerrigan wraps them all in a gray coat of murky morality. The tension between law and justice is an age old one, and has cropped up plenty in crime fiction and film -- but Synnott is one of the most engaging embodiments of that tension I've come across in quite a while. Although he fits the standard fictional police detective template pretty well (middle-aged, divorced, emotionally closed, virtually friendless, poor relationship with his son, lives spartanly in a soulless flat), he's not quite as straightforward as he seems -- which is all one can say without spoiling the story.
There are other twists within the various storylines to keep things lively, including a rather intriguing subplot involving the jeweler. Kerrigan also uses elements of the story to underscore the dramatic socioeconomic changes Ireland has seen in the last two decades. But this is all kept more or less in the background, where it belongs, as the focus remains on Synnott and his attempt to mete out justice. A top-notch crime novel that will have me seeking out Kerrigan's past fiction and keeping an eye out for whatever he does next.
Garda Detective Inspector Harry Synnott sometimes ignores the niceties of Irish law when the evidence against a felon does not meet court standards, but he abhors the violence with which his fellow Gardai sometimes beat prisoners to get information. In clear prose which often contains bits of black humor and a great deal of irony, Irish author Gene Kerrigan sets the primary story of this police procedural in Dublin, and the secondary, companion story in Galway, until they overlap.
The Galway story seems simple enough: Two Gardai save a man threatening suicide from the roof of a pub, only to discover that the man's clothes are covered in blood. He will not tell his name, and the only statement he makes is an enigmatic, "I'd never hurt a woman before." When he is identified, detectives find that his only connections with Dublin are that he once worked for a Dublin security firm, and that his sister is a Dublin resident.
In Dublin, Harry Synnott, mired in police politics, is being shunned for having testified against his fellow officers in the beating of a prisoner. Synnott and Detective Garda Rose Cheney are investigating allegations of rape and abuse brought by a young woman against the son of a wealthy businessman who has top-notch lawyers. They are also trying to get help for Dixie Peyton, a poor junkie, sometimes an informer, who has robbed a tourist couple, using a syringe as a weapon. In a third thread, Joshua Boyce, a businessman with an indeterminate business, commits a robbery in which a man dies. The Irish mob enters the picture. As the details of these cases unfold and overlap during the space of one week, one of Synnott's old cases, the "Swanson Avenue" case, casts its long shadow and eventually raises serious questions about justice, responsibility, and guilt.
Kerrigan keeps the action crisp and fast-paced, with plenty of complications to keep the reader busy. What makes this novel different from so many of this genre is that he is also outstanding at creating characters with whom the reader develops empathy--Synnot and Dixie Peyton and her son, in particular. Synnott, himself, is likable and basically good-hearted, but he is easily distracted and fails those who depend on him, including his family. His final recognition of his failings comes dramatically and brutally, and the reader is left to ponder whether he will be able to deal with his self-realization. Dark and sad in its vision of humanity, even with the bleak humor that is scattered throughout, this dramatic and tense novel questions the relationship between freedom and responsibility, between order and justice, and between principles and expediency. Mary Whipple
on 9 January 2007
Quoting a master like Leonard Cohen is well and good, but choosing old ground like "Bird on a Wire" for a title puts Gene Kerrigan among the throng groping Goldie Hawn's sloppy seconds. He's better than that. Judging from the setting, characters, pace, and gravity in The Midnight Choir, his superb second novel, Kerrigan's in a fresh, truthful league on par with Cohen himself.
The supercops and serial killers of much Emerald Isle fiction could very well be placed anywhere. The Midnight Choir is not so. In character, crime and conflict, this setting is resoundingly Modern Ireland. Its Gardai are demoralized and bogged down in bureaucracy- true to life. The crimes they clean up after daily are petty street affairs and DVD piracy, while rarer murders outrage national headlines- also true. Conflict arises from inability to nail the parties that cops know very well to be guilty, infighting and the requirement of kissing the Justice Minister's ass. All very true, very Irish. Incising with an insider's insight, Kerrigan makes The Midnight Choir setting sing.
To hum out the bars of the plot: an outcast, honest detective named Harry Synnott strives to nail a clever, violent jewellery store robber before departing Ireland for a plum job with Europol. His sidekick sets herself the mission of stopping a spoiled rich kid rapist. Harry's desperate junkie informer, Dixie Peyton, must reclaim her boy from foster care and escape. A crime lord rages against the tout (that Irish for "informer") in his organization, vowing to cut off that leak permanently once it is identified. And way over on the west coast, in Galway, a young beat cop is the only man that the bloody psycho thug he captured will spin his riddles to. Each strives, in their way, to be free.
Two weaknesses: first, this is one crowded choir. New characters introduce new threads of storyline even later than three-quarters of the way through the novel. The result was perhaps unnecessarily complicated. I had to stop and read back through to remember who had produced what note. I am a bit of an idiot, true, but I feel that The Midnight Choir would have felt tighter, hummed a little better, if it had been leaner. Kerrigan is guaranteed a long career. Some of these interesting characters, plotlines, and observations could sound more clearly if held back for a future novel.
Second: the various notes take a long time to form a chord. Inevitably the various threads of plot will weave and connect, but they really take their time doing so. This more resembles "Bohemian Rhapsody" than Cohen's simple titular tune.
Regardless of the phrase on the cover, Kerrigan's The Midnight Choir is a mighty tower of a novel. It has well earned its place among Critical Mick's Best Books Read in 2006.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 July 2009
This is a fine example of irish crime writing .A good plot very entertaining read. I had not read any irish fiction for over 10 years.
I was familiar with the authors journalism and non-fiction work.This has made me to read more of the authors crime fiction work.
Looking forward already to reading them on my next summer holiday.
on 2 September 2012
I have read a few of Gene Kerrigan novels and haven't been disappointed by any of them. Set in modern day Dublin people say write what you know and I think he knows modern Dublin very well.
The style of writing is short and descriptive. I find his characters to be very real, no black and white the police are flawed and the criminals not all bad.
on 2 March 2014
an absorbing novel that grips the reader from the beginning. gives a great insight into modern day ireland. some crime novels go past the surface and reflect the city where they are set. george pelecanos has done this for wahington dc to great affect and now we have an irish version.read it
on 8 April 2013
I think someone said 'Kerrigan is the real deal' and I would not argue with that. Top flight character driven crime fiction.
on 16 August 2013
Good story which kept me interested.mentioned the area I grew up in Dublin which I can see is still not very salubrious....