Monday, October 10, 2011

"The Colour Of Blood" by Declan Hughes

Ed Loy is a private detective in Dublin, hired by ex-rugby-player turned dental surgeon Shane Howard to find his daughter Emily. She has shown up in pornographic movies, and Shane is now being blackmailed - pay up or the movies go wildly public. It actually doesn't take Ed too long to locate Emily, but that is hardly the end of it. Ed opens up a whole can of worms involving the sordid history of the Howard family. When Shane becomes the prime suspect in the murders of both his wife and a young rugby player behind the porno movies, Ed must dig into the Howard's history, which also seems to be linked to a local crime boss.

To be honest, I'm a little tired of the well-worn cliche in the private detective genre in which the person who hired the private detective actually has the most to hide. Then they go and act all surprised when the private detective goes and does their job properly and detects things. In this case, it is not only Shane Howard but his sister Sandra as well. Considering how things pan out, what the hell are the doing hiring Ed Loy in the first place?

Other than this glaring plot point and some other minor quibbles, Declan Hughes is a pretty damn good author. Sure, the descriptions are a little too lengthy for my taste, but he does a good job of setting up the scene and establishing atmosphere. The characters are extremely well-drawn, feeling like real people. The plot is fantastically structured. While most other authors could write a whole novel about a missing girl and the effort to find her, that is only a starting point here. Seriously, Hughes crams most 400-page novels into about 50 pages here. Each chapter twists the story in a new direction. In some ways, it reminded me of Harlan Coben in his prime.

So what went wrong? Yes, I was bothered by the fact Ed was hired by people who had secrets they didn't want uncovered. It makes no sense whatsoever. But on top of that, the novel was just missing that special something that made me not want to put it down. It took me about a week to read this. Even a bad Harlan Coben novel generally has me reading it from start to finish within a day or two. The constant allusions to the involvement of a local gangster may have had something to do with it. The plot just keeps on returning to former-gangster-turned-businessman Brock Taylor and his possible involvement in current events and the various crimes from the past. I'm simply not a fan of crime gangs in crime fiction. Gang warfare has ruined many a crime novel for me. Also, events come a little convoluted. Everybody has something to hide and is involved in some way. It didn't help that at least three characters all had the name of "David". I got a little lost sometimes, which made it hard to catch up when I returned to the book.

All complaints aside, "The Colour Of Blood" comes highly recommended. Hughes is a talented, literate author. This is actually a top-notch reflection of what this genre has to offer - from a technical standpoint. But, like I said, it shouldn't have taken me so long to finish it. Something was missing. I'm just really not sure what.

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