October Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

The Silent Dead by Claire McGowan

Published by Headline

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Down Among the Dead Men by Kerry Wilkinson

Published by Macmillan

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Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

Published by Little, Brown

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‘The child is father of the man.’  ‘Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.’  ‘Give me a child until the age of seven and I will give you the man.’  With the words of Wordsworth, Muriel Spark, and the Jesuits ringing in our ears, it’s not surprising that so many crime writers are fascinated by the sufferings of children who have been involved in murder.

Claire McGowan’s The Silent Dead explores the effect of a horrific bombing in Northern Ireland on the community involved.  The identity of the bombers is known to most of the survivors, and many still live within short distances of each other, but no one has ever been convicted.  One day the body of one of the bombers is found hanged and McGowan’s continuing character, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, is called in to advise on the case.  Heavily pregnant, still not certain of the identity of her baby’s father, she faces emotionally and physically gruelling days as more and more bodies turn up.  At the same time, McGowan reveals the full extent of the damage suffered by survivors through the experience of Kira, whose elder sister died at her side and whose blood she felt all over her own body as she came round, lying in the road, after the explosion.

As McGowan makes clear, the bombers are not the only source of the pain inflicted on her characters.  The stifling moral code of the country and the endemic misogyny wreak their own damage, which continues down the generations.

Kerry Wilkinson takes a different kind of civil war as the backdrop to his bleak story of the coming of age of Jason Green.  Slight, bullied, beaten up by his mother’s abusive lovers, Jason was rescued by one of the two organized-crime bosses in Manchester and set to work.  Wilkinson tells his story in two sequences, showing us the boy Jason was and the young man he has become.  In his twenties, building his running-away fund and dreaming of escape, doing his best by his boss as well as his hopeless, addicted, selfish mother, and by his almost equally destructive younger brother, Jason is faced with ever-more difficult dilemmas.  He is a wonderful character, and it is impossible not to care about his fate.  As fast-moving as a thriller, Down Among the Dead Men provides not only a compelling portrait of squalid, desperate lives but also a full-scale tragedy.

Set on the other side of the world, Keigo Higashino’s Journey under the Midnight Sun deals with some of the same issues.  Here, the body of a stabbed pawnbroker is found by an elementary-school pupil in 1973.  Detective Sasagaki does his best to investigate, but there is no satisfactory outcome of the case.  Soon one of the chief suspects, a single mother existing in great poverty, is found dead.  No one can be certain whether she committed suicide or was the victim of an accident.

The narrative continues for the next twenty years, told from different points of view.  Often puzzling, always intriguing, it ranges over many aspects of Japanese society, from the most traditional to the burgeoning high-tech industries that are so profitable for both the criminal and the legitimate operators.  The misogyny here is eye-popping.

Sasagaki never lets the case go and is there at the end of the novel when everything at last becomes clear and the judgements Higashino has tempted us to make are laid bare in all their injustice.

If any extra-terrestrial should ever arrive on this planet, needing to know how its indigenous inhabitants operate, crime fiction would be the best guide.

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