Friday, December 31, 2010
Breakfast with Anglo by Simon Kelly ***.5
Ten Days to D-Day by David Stafford ****
We Die Alone by David Howarth *****
The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler ****
And Then You Die by Michael Dibdin **.5
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves ****.5
Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage ****.5
Collusion by Stuart Neville ****.5
London Boulevard by Ken Bruen ****
A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey ****
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
‘Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practice. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defence, police, and legal structures required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if necessary, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture.’
Harvey does an admirable job of explaining the logic of neoliberalism and in detailing a history of how its ideas have come to prominence in a number of countries. Whilst Harvey demonstrates the ways in which neoliberalism has unfolded in a variety of ways in a selection of countries, the story would have benefited from a more systematic analysis of the varieties of neoliberalism working across and within countries. Indeed, a scalar analysis from the local to the global would have been a useful addition to the text. That said, for anyone wanting a good overview of neoliberalism, this is a very useful introductory text. It also predicted the present global financial crash and explains why it was an inevitable outcome of free market financial capitalism, sustained by a political economic ideology that prioritized the interests of the market and corporations at all costs. From an Irish perspective, anyone trying to understand why the Irish economy collapsed and why the banks and the bond holders have been prioritized over citizens this book provides a compelling starting point to an explanation.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Ken Bruen seems to write effortlessly with a strong first person voice – the prose flows with great cadence; it’s as if it’s he’s sitting in a pub with you recounting the story over a few drunken pints. In London Boulevard he manages to convey a scene and the essential essence of characters in a few words, enabling the story to fly along. It almost feels like a movie script, which is where I think the book underplays things a little. I found myself wanting to slow things down a little in places and find out more about the back story and relationships between characters or to find out more about a particular bit of the storyline. The plot where it concerns Mitch’s re-absorption into the South London underworld and his relationship with his sister is very good, though the plotline concerning his attempt to go straight by working as a handyman doesn’t work quite so well given its plot device nature, but it does bring things to a typical Bruen noir ending. There’s also a nice use of intertextuality throughout. Overall, Bruen’s voice and writing win out to provide an entertaining slice of London noir.
P.S. I’ve just noticed that the book has recently been made into a movie of the same name – released in November 2010. Having watched the trailer - it's clear that the movie makers have rehashed the entire thing and it's hopelessly miscast with respect to the book. Why they have done this is beyond me, the book would have made a decent movie without being entirely re-written and populated with other characters.
Monday, December 27, 2010
At one level, Collusion is a fairly straightforward thriller – The Traveller hunts down O’Kane’s victims and Fegan and Lennon try to stop him. It rises above average fare though by being a multilayered tale with noir sensibilities – no real heroes or neat resolutions, just people with complex, troubled and intertwined histories. The writing is excellent, with well constructed prose and scenes. The characterisation is strong and the plotting sound, with pages flying by as the end nears. I would have liked a bit more backstory and time with some of the characters, and a little more plot elaboration in places, but that’s just personal taste. And, although it’s not essential to read The Twelve, Neville’s previous novel first, it would certainly help as just about all the characters in Collusion first appear there and this is very much a sequel. Overall, an entertaining read, with the best opening scene I’ve read for a while. Whilst there are a pack of Irish crime writers flourishing at the minute, it’s not clear if one is going to break free and join John Connolly in the mega-sales league. Stuart Neville may well be that writer on the strength of his first two novels.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Blood of the Wicked is a crime novel meets social commentary, examining the nature of policing, justice, access to land and a livelihoods, street kids, liberation theology, and massive inequalities in wealth and power in Brazil. It would have been easy for Gage to drift into writing little more than a sermon on corruption and the injustices suffered by the peasant class in country, but he manages to keep the story of the investigation centre stage, with the social commentary drifting out through its telling. And it is a powerful tale, well told. The plotting is, for the most part, excellent, though I did feel the plot line with the journalist was closed off when it could have profitably been kept open and the deaths of several people with powerful connections would have meant the city being flooded with dozens of federal cops, not just Silva and two colleagues. But these are minor gripes. The characterization is strong across a range of characters, not just the principles, and Silva is a detective worth spending time with. Where the book excels is in its evocation of place and its social history and commentary. If you like your fiction to inform and educate as well entertain, then Blood of the Wicked is well worth a read.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Most posts this week:
Signed on the line
Review of And Then You Die by Michael Dibdin
Building on floodplains. Can't learn? won't learn?
Review of Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
Managing and resolving unfinished housing estates
A profound ad
Authors new to me in 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage ****.5
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves ****.5
The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler ****
I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane***.5
Killer Country by Mike Nicols ***.5
Halo in Blood by John Evans/Howard Browne ****
Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo ****
South of no North by Charles Bukowski ****
Smoked by Patrick Quinlan ***.5
The Green Ripper by John D. Macdonald ***.5
The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman ***
Saturday's Child by Ray Banks****
Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett ***
The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Samson ***
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett ****
Client by Parnell Hall**.5
The Information Officer by Mark Mills **.5
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy ****.5
Point Blank by Richard Stark****
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza by Lawrence Block ***
Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta ****
Damnation Street by Andrew Klavan ****
Vodka Doesn't Freeze by Liah Giarrantano ****
Brodeck's Report by Phillipe Claudel *****
Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar ***
Badfellas by Tonino Benacquista ***
Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan ***
Then Came The Evening by Brian Hart ****
Blood Moon by Gary Disher **
Fury by G.M. Ford ***
Hand in the Fire by Hugo Hamilton ***
Killer by Dave Zeltserman *****
A Deadly Trade by Michael Stanley ***
The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto ****
Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Pers Wahloo ****
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston *****
The Devil's Garden by Ace Atkins ***
The American Envoy by Garbhan Downey ***
Motor City Blue by Loren Estleman ***
Paying For It by Tony Black ***
Criminal Summer by Luigi Guicciardi ***
Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas ***
The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza ****
The Good Thief's Guide to Paris by Chris Ewan ****
Devil's Food by Anthony Bruno ****
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain *****
Grift Sense by James Swain ****
Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura ***
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett *****
Dead Set by Kel Robertson ****
The Fugitive Pigeon by Donald Westlake ***
Shinjuku Shark by Arimasa Osawa **
Isle of Joy by Don Winslow ****
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley ****
Ten Days to D-Day by David Stafford ****
We Die Alone by David Howarth *****
Breakfast with Anglo by Simon Kelly ***.5
Wasters by Shane Ross and Nick Webb ***
Love, Sex and War by John Cosgrove ****.5
GUBU Nation by Damian Corless ***
Kamikazi by Raymond Lamont-Brown ***
Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie **
Chickenhawk by Robert Mason ****
The People's Manifesto by Mark Thomas ****
Friday, December 17, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Raven Black is compelling read. The plotting is strong and the prose nicely structured. Rather than follow the story from a single perspective, Cleeves elects to produce a multi-stranded narrative. The result is a multi-layered and textured story and a sense of being immersed in a community. Cleeves is particularly good at penning her characters and evoking a sense of place. The police procedural elements are realistic without the technical aspects being dwelled upon and the social relations between the cast members are believable. For a long time this was a 5 star read. I did, however, feel slightly let down by the end. On reflection, I think my issue was that the motivation of the killer was not really fully explained, nor why the victim did not fight back. Otherwise, this was a very fine read and I’m looking forward to tucking into the next book in Cleeves’ Shetland series.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
And Then You Die is a novel of two halves. The first half is an enjoyable enough read. A little slow, but interesting enough, with some nice prose and observations, and solid characterization. The second half was very disappointing. The plot, which had been okay, suddenly becomes ridiculous. And rather than there just being one strange flaw, the rest of the book is full of them, compounding the problem (and the issues are not just small, niggly things, but crucial plot devices that are simply not credible). The pace shifts from being steady and sure to a mad rush to the end, and the charactization swaps to caricature. I really don’t understand the reason for this. It was if the author had made it half way through the manuscript and then suddenly stopped believing in the story and wanted to get it over as soon as possible. A real shame as the first half was good. The second half though was a real let down.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
My posts this week:
Review of Ten Days to D-Day by David Stafford
Did not finish ...
Review of We Die Alone by David Howarth
Will stamp duty changes get the market moving again?
It's a cultural thing ...
Review of The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
Friday, December 10, 2010
Eric Ambler is considered one of England’s finest spy thriller writers preceding the post-war and cold war chroniclers such as Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Ted Allbeury and others. The Mask of Dimitrios has a remarkably contemporary feel, dealing as it does with geopolitical tensions in the Balkans and transnational criminal networks trading women and drugs, and yet it has a historical richness that places it in the late 1930s in which it is set and written. Ambler writers in an assured and economical manner, leading the reader on a well paced journey across Europe and into encounters with a variety of complex characters. The real strength of the book is its plotting and ambiguities. Latimer is neither hero nor victim, but rather an ordinary citizen that finds himself on an obsessive path that veers into a different world and its morals. Indeed, it is difficult not to conclude that the present master of the ambiguous, everyday spy thriller, Alan Furst, has modelled his writing to an extent on Ambler’s (and if I’d read the book without knowing the author I would have guessed that Furst had written it). There are a couple of plot devices that feel contrived and one of the principal characters, Mr Peters, doesn’t quite feel right (he’s a remarkably sophisticated character in terms of his reading, language skills and conduct, and yet his path through life does make these qualities unlikely). Regardless, Ambler skilfully blends history, intrigue and characters to produce a fine read.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
You knew where you were in a Catholic culture: up to your neck in lies, evasions, impenetrable mysteries, double-dealing, back-stabbing and underhand intrigues of every kind. With which comforting thought he lowered the blind again and dozed off.
Ah, an explanation for the crisis in Ireland and the lack of any real sense of emergency or protest. It's a cultural thing - the crisis is just normal practice magnified. I'll post a review of the book next week some time.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Heading across the island pursued by search parties he’s lost one shoe and sock, and one toe has been shot off. He realises that the only way to avoid capture is to take to the water again and swim across a sound to another island. There he is taken in by sympathetic family, warmed up and re-clothed. The son then rows him to another island and provides the names of potential helpers. He then spends four days crossing the island by foot to seek help; the second leg in Baalstrud’s quest to cross Norway and enter neutral Sweden. It is a journey of 40 miles, but it takes him 68 days.
During that time he goes through a living hell, trying to survive in sub-zero temperatures with no tent, no fire, sun-blindness, frostbite, and gangrene. He spends nearly all of it on his own though he is helped by and passed between a number of different villagers, who know that Baalstrud’s compatriots on the boat had been shot by the Germans and four people who helped them sent to a concentration camp in Germany. When his physical condition deteriorates the only way to the border is for villagers to carry him across the snow covered mountains. Unfortunately, once up over the first peak the weather halts progress. Unable to carry him down again, they leave him sheltering under a boulder, expecting him to die. He remains amongst the snow and blizzards for 4 weeks, visited every 3 or 4 days by villagers. During that time he is constantly wet and frozen and loses half his body weight and all his toes except one. That he survives at all is simply remarkable. He basically refused to die. Even more amazing is that once he’s recovered, he returns to England, volunteers to go back to occupied Norway, and ends the war fighting with the Norwegian resistance.
Howarth does an admirable job in researching and telling Baalstrud’s story. It is a remarkable read - one of those survival against all odds stories that stays with you. I was hooked from the first page to the last. My only quibbles are with the surface stuff - I’ve no idea why the book is titled, ‘We Die Alone’ (since he didn’t), nor why it has the cover it does (he didn’t have a rifle, he saw no planes, the landscape is wrong), and the book badly needed a map of the journey (I managed to find one here). But this is minor stuff. The narrative and story is compelling. First rate stuff. One of those books that affirms that humans can be amazing creatures – both in endurance and community. Thoroughly recommended.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
- Weak plot, often deriative with no distinctive voice; a formulaic approach; no compelling hook
- Poor character development, with stock characters, caricatures and stereotypes (I don't mind this in certain kinds of novels, such as comic noir, but not in anything rooted in any kind of realism).
- Characters I don't believe in or care about to some degree (even if I don't like them, I need to be able to be interested in them)
- Too much tell and not enough show; over-description or labouring points
- Bad dialogue with characters that speak in formal English, with no slang, interuptions, tail-offs, and all use the same voice, etc
- Lack of credibility and realism in what purports to be realistic fiction (again I don't mind if the story is not seeking realism as with fantasy; though in fantasy there has to be consistency and the plot has to fit within the rules of that world)
- A writing style that is all style and no substance - nice prose is good, great story is better
- Too much sermonising and/or pretentiousness
- Continuity errors, basic historical or factual errors, weak editing
- Knowing that if I stop I won't care that I don't know how it ends (and I like to know how things end)
Monday, December 6, 2010
The real strength of the book is its biographical weaving of the narratives of individuals and setting those within the wider context of the war and its political framing. Where the book is perhaps weakest is the choice of some of the individuals. The account of the Norwegian resistance organiser’s time in jail is interesting, but has no baring whatsoever on the D-Day landings, and indeed he knew nothing about them and played no role in the lead up to them. The German soldier similarly played no direct role in D-Day being posted a long way behind the front. It would have been good to have included some other characters that were more centrally involved. The other issue is that the book does feel as if it ends too soon. We get the lead in to the main event, but get very little of the event itself and what follows. The reader is warned by the title that this would be the case, but it does feel that the story is too truncated. Overall, a fascinating read that needed a little fine tuning.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
My posts this week
Review of The Samaritan's Secret by Matt Beynon Rees
All-Island Research Observatory
Review of Breakfast with Anglo by Simon Kelly
CIF and NAMA
What's going on in Ireland
The future of Ireland's landscape
Saturday, December 4, 2010
The Samaritan's Secret by Matt Beynon Rees ***.5
Vanilla Ride by Joe Lansdale *****
I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane ***.5
Killer Country by Mike Nicols ***.5
Enough is Enough by Fintan O'Toole ****
Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman *****
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Ireland After NAMA (the one I write for)
I had an opinion piece in The Irish Times this morning on unfinished/ghost estates, and the IT is a good place to take a look at for a sense of things.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Breakfast in Anglo is a curious read. Kelly has produced a candid, seemingly open, and engaging narrative. Whilst many elements of the story will rile many readers, Kelly has clearly been on a journey of self-reflexivity and he’s able to step back a pace and set out the ins and outs of the business, his role in it, and to acknowledge his culpability and express remorse for the ensuing disaster of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. That’s not to say that Kelly is full of regrets, though he has a few, or that is he rounds on his former colleagues and partners, or is apologetic for his lifestyle or the fact that he knows how to work the system and does, including walking away or sheltering from massive liabilities. Indeed, it’s clear that even now he has a soft spot for Anglo Irish Bank and many of the staff who worked there, and he’s generous in his praise of those he worked with. However, by wearing his heart on his sleeve and being straight, the result is a book which as much as one would like to hate it, and as much as the story annoys and riles, and for all its faults and silences, one has to admit was a pretty good read. That’s not to say that there aren’t issues with the story being told, but that the writing craft and narrative was solid.
As for the story. Breakfast with Anglo principally tells the financial and deal making side of the building of the Kelly’s property empire. In particular it focuses on the relationship between the Kellys and Anglo Irish Bank, how they built a complex web of partnerships with other developers and financiers to make different deals work, and how the nature of development changed throughout the boom years. Told from Kelly’s personal perspective it also reveals how he changed as the business grew and became increasingly disillusioned by the life he was living, but ultimately was unable to extract himself from it.
Where the book is strongest is in its insight into the way in Anglo, the other banks, and the deal making side of development worked. Anglo built relationships that extended beyond simply servicing business. It cultivated its clients, gave them royal treatment, bent over backwards to help them out and make financing as easy as possible, but in return demanded loyalty. They became the bank of choice for developers because they actively facilitated them by building a relationship, cutting through red-tape, and were reactive to their needs. They also didn’t impose ‘silly rules and restrictions’ as Kelly puts it, by which he means sensible and prudent rules and restrictions.
Where the book is almost completely silent is with respect to politics, vested interests and planning. Not one single politician makes an appearance in the story. The much talked about cabal in the media is developer, banker, politician. Either the Kelly’s had nothing to do with the politicians or political donations or political lobbying, or this is conveniently dropped from the narrative. And whilst Simon Kelly might not have been actively and directly involved in this, one would find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have known what other elements of the firm were up to given the level of interaction and family and partner plotting. Neither is the role of vested interest groups such as the CIF much discussed and the role of developers in shaping the policy landscape around planning and tax breaks. And the book is pretty mute on the business of securing planning permissions and working the planning system and bullying local communities through threats of compulsory purchase orders and the like, other than a couple of short notes. There are hints at how developers played the tax incentive schemes and avoided capital gains tax and stamp duty, but these are in passing and there is no in-depth discussion as to how these were played and exploited. The story then is selective, rather than the full warts and all promised. For the book to have been the full expose of what went on, then all these issues needed to be explored in depth.
At the end of the book, Kelly provides ten lessons for the boom. Interestingly, they all focus on what a developer should remember in order to be successful and avoid crashing. None of the ten lessons focuses on what Ireland should do to avoid future boom and bust – no mention of the Kenny Report, nothing about financial regulation, nothing about a more robust planning system, nothing about political reform, and so on. Ultimately, Kelly cannot see beyond the developer horizon. If after being at the centre of the property development boom and bust, the ten lessons are simply about protecting developer interests, one ultimately feels that despite his self-reflexive soul searching, Kelly hasn’t learnt a lot beyond self-interest. And he is one of the developers who isn’t still in denial. Unless the cabal of developers, bankers and politicians can start to see the bigger picture beyond their own interests, then one anticipates reading a similar book by a Kelly-wannabe or the next generation of his family in 30 years time.
Overall, a book as interesting for its silences as for what it has to say about property development in Ireland, but an engaging read nonetheless.
Monday, November 29, 2010
The first two books in the Omar Yussef series are great reads, especially The Collaborator of Bethlehem. The stories are well told, multi-layered, had a good balance of back story, history and political context, and evoked a strong sense of place. The Samaritan’s Secret, however, seemed quite direct and a little flat in comparison. The narrative jumps right into the story and then runs at a steady pace. The plot idea is strong, but the telling lacks some of the craft of the first two books. I also felt the story suffered from a couple of credibility issues. The story works on Omar Yussef being embedded in certain networks (which is fine), but too many times I kept asking myself why all the various actors, from all sides, were prepared to confide in him. Yes, he’s a genial character, but he’s also a stranger to many characters and conspiracies work on secrets. I therefore found it difficult to believe that he could so quickly and effectively work his way to the centre of the action. That all said, the concept is good and it’s an entertaining read. I think part of the issue is that the first two books are so good that Rees has set himself a very high bar to reach in subsequent outings. This is always going to be a challenge. In Omar Yussef, Rees has created a great character and I’m looking forward to the fourth outing.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
I've spent the last three days doing the index to the Code/Space book for MIT Press. It is incredibly tedious and I'm still going. I hope someone actually uses the thing for all the effort it's taking!
My posts this week:
Short story: Undergrowth
Kindle version of The White Gallows
IMF report on structural reform in Euro area, including Ireland
Review of Vanilla Ride by Joe Lansdale
Signing on the line
Giving apartments away has social and economic consequences
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
If Lansdale could churn out a daily dose of Hap and Leonard stories, I could quite happily read nothing but them and be satisfied. In my view, Hap and Leonard are the best double act in crime fiction today, and Lansdale the best proponent of comic crime. I loved Vanilla Ride from the first page to the last - my jaw ached from grinning so much. The writing is excellent – expressive, taut, quick paced, funny – and the dialogue is first class. The characterisation is a little caricaturish at times, but that goes with the territory with these kinds of novels. The plot is well constructed and it would easily translate to the big screen. I’ve nothing bad to say about it. If you have a rough and ready sense of humour then read this book – you won’t regret it.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
‘For fuck’s sake,’ Pete muttered, ‘how come we always get the crappy jobs?’
The rain was drifting in on a cold, east wind; a fine mist that managed to work its way through outer layers. They’d already scoured the laneway for a knife or bloodied clothes, poking away at the foliage with stakes. Now they were wading through sodden ferns under the canopy of a small copse, their clothes snagging on tangles of brambles, hands stung by nettles.
‘You’d sooner be pushing paper, yeah?’ Harry replied.
‘We’ve got the fucker, so why can’t we wait until it stops fecking raining?’
‘Because Johnny Cronin knows this is the only way a skanky fucker like you gets a shower. We’re just here to make sure you wash the shampoo off properly.’
‘Says the man who only has three pairs of underpants and does a wash just once a week’, scoffed Pete. ‘I say we call it quits. All we’re going to catch is pneumonia. We’re just wasting our time.’
‘Will you two stop bloody moaning,’ Chloe Gaines snapped. She’d no idea what crime she’d committed to be punished by a morning with Harry and Pete, two dinosaurs from another era - unreconstructed, misogynist cops on the slow road to retirement. ‘Jesus, it’s only a bit of rain.’
‘I don’t see you stripping off yer’ wet gear,’ Harry replied, ‘dancing around to some rain god.’
‘Rubbing the shampoo in,’ Pete added.
Several years their junior, Chloe Gaines was the best looking cop in their station by a country mile and neither man would object if she felt the need to strip down to her birthday suit to dance in the rain.
‘For god’s sake - how old are you, five?’ Chloe asked, rolling her eyes.
‘What the ...’ Harry trailed off, picking at the ground with his staff, revealing a withered condom. ‘Ah, Jesus, you could have cleaned up after yourself, Pete.’
‘Well, it looks like your size.’
‘If that was mine you could tie five knots in it and it would still be bigger than that.’
Chloe snorted in derision. She pressed on ahead, wondering how either man had managed to find a wife.
Harry shared a look with Pete and nodded conspiratorially towards Gaines. ‘Here’s one for you. How’s a woman like a condom?’
Pete shrugged and ducked under a low branch.
‘Both spend more time in your wallet than on your prick.’
Chloe swivelled round, her face flushed red. ‘I’ve warned you before. Any more jokes like that and I’ll be reporting you for sexual harassment.’
‘Relax will you, Chloe. It’s just a joke. Jesus.’
‘It’s not just a joke.’
‘What do you do with 365 used condoms?’ Harry continued, as if to make a point. ‘Melt them down, make a tyre, and call it a Goodyear.’
As he uttered the punch line, his footing shot out from under him and he slid down a bank which had been hidden from view by the undergrowth, plunging into freezing black water.
Harry let out a roar. ‘Fuck! Jesus wept!’
Chloe and Pete hurried back and stared down the slope at him, neck deep in water.
‘Relax, you big girl,’ Pete said. ‘I’ll pass you the shampoo.’
‘Fuck you! I’ve found that fuckin’ knife.’ Harry’s hand emerged from the filthy water clutching the blade, blood seeping out between his fingers.
‘Don’t bleed on it!’ Chloe said. ‘You’re contaminating the evidence.’
‘Are you’re taking the piss? I’ve just managed to stab myself.’
‘Yeah, on a murder weapon! For Christ’s sake, Harry.’
‘I’ve just scared the shit out of myself sliding down here; I stab myself, and all you’re worried about is the poxy knife.’
‘It sounds like you better wash you underpants whilst you’re down there,’ Pete added.
‘And fuck you too!’ Harry spluttered, shivering in the freezing pool. Get down here and help me out.’
Chloe kicked the condom, it plopping into water next to him. ‘Here, grab hold of that life raft.’
Harry’s teeth were chattering like a child’s machine gun, his body shaking with shivers. They were huddled on the side of the lane in the lee of a large oak tree, seeking shelter from the rain, having decided to wait there for the ambulance rather than trudge the half mile back to their vehicle.
‘You need to get out of those wet clothes,’ Chloe said.
‘And ... get into ... what?’ Harry’s hand was throbbing with pain, blood leaking out from under the wad of paper handkerchiefs Gaines had given him to try and stench the flow.
‘Give him your coat, Pete.’
‘Give him your coat, you big pansy; he’s going to catch hypothermia. Come-on, let’s get this stuff off.’ She started to tug at the zip to Harry’s coat.
‘Jesus ... you’ve turned ... a bit keen. We gonna ... share a ... sleeping bag ... to keep ... keep warm?’
‘In your feckin’ dreams, Harry. All the whale fat on you, you’d think you could cope with a bit of bloody cold water.’
‘Where’s the feckin’ ambulance?’ Pete muttered, not wanting to give up the warm cocoon of his coat.
‘Whale fat? ... That’s ... that’s muscle.’
‘It’s beer and burgers.’ Chloe had got the coat unzipped. ‘Right, come-on, you big girl, slip out of it.’
Harry let go of the handkerchiefs with his good hand, closing his bloody fingers around them, and allowed his shaking body to be eased out of the jacket.
‘What’s ... black and white ... and red all over?’
‘Now the jumper,’ Chloe said, ignoring him. ‘Put your arms up and lean forward.’
Harry did as he was told, muttering the answer. ‘A killer ... whale ... eating the ... sarcastic bitch ... taunting him.’
Chloe grabbed the jumper at its base and tugged the material up his body and part way along his arms until the neck opening jammed on Harry’s head, stopping progress. She tried tugging it, but succeeded in only dragging him forward.
‘For fuck’s sake. Give me a hand, Pete.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘What do you think! Get the neck over his head. I’ll keep pulling.’
Pete struggled with the jumper, easing it over the jut of Harry’s chin, trying to push back against him as Chloe pulled.
‘Stop! Jesus, fuck. ... Are you ... are you ... trying to ... rip my fa... face off?’ His arms were locked in place above him, the neck of the jumper tight at the base of his ears and caught under his nose.
‘What’s wrong?’ Chloe asked. ‘How do you normally take it off?’
‘It’s ... it’s shrunk.’
‘Stop being such a cry baby.’ She tugged viciously without warning, pitching Harry forward and knocking Pete to the ground where he landed in a pothole full of water.
‘For fuck’s sake!’ Pete snapped. ‘What did you do that for, you silly bitch!’
‘Stop whinging and help me ... at last, here’s the bloody cavalry,’ she said, as the blue swirling lights of an ambulance swung round the corner and raced towards them.
Pete had gotten to his feet by the time the ambulance had pulled to a halt, its back doors just a few feet away. He tugged his sodden trousers from his skin, shaking his legs. ‘For god’s sake,’ he muttered darkly.
The front doors of the ambulance opened and the driver and a paramedic tumbled out and jogged back towards them.
‘I should have known,’ the driver said, unable to stifle a laugh at the scene, Harry bent in half, his arms outstretched, the hem of the jumper still in Chloe’s grasp; Pete hopping from one foot to the other. ‘The deadly duo! You haven’t called us out just to help you get this jumper off, have you?’
‘Fuck you ... Mike,’ Harry said, recognising the voice. ‘I’ve been ... stabbed.’
‘By himself,’ Chloe said. ‘He picked up a knife by the sharp end.’
‘Contaminating the evidence,’ Pete added.
Mike tutted. ‘Did nobody teach you how to use a knife and fork, Harry?’
‘Stop fucking ... about and ... get me ... get me ... to a ... to a ... hospital,’ he stuttered with cold. ‘I’m ... losing ... blood.’
Mike tugged the jumper back down, freeing Harry’s arms and revealing his bright red face. ‘You’re sopping wet.’
‘No ... shit ... Einstein.’
‘He fell into a pond,’ Chloe explained. ‘We were trying to get him out of his wet clothes.’
‘Not content stabbing yourself, you wanted a go at drowning yourself, as well?’
‘He wanted to be a killer whale,’ Pete added.
‘I’ll bleeding ... stab ... stab you ... unless ... unless ... you shut the fuck up.’
‘Jesus, lighten up, Harry,’ Mike said, helping him up into the back of the ambulance. They were only jokes.
‘He’s all laughed out,’ Chloe said. ‘It was rubbish jokes that got him into this mess in the first place. Isn’t that right, Harry? Perhaps we should just melt you down, make a tyre and call it a Goodyear?’
‘There you are,’ Inspector Johnny Cronin said brusquely, poking his head between the curtains. ‘I’ve been looking all over for you.’
Harry and Chloe looked up at their boss.
Harry was sitting up on a bed wearing a borrowed t-shirt and a dressing gown, feeling slightly vulnerable in the absence of underpants. The hospital staff were letting him rest there until Pete returned with a fresh set of clothes on the understanding that he didn’t sneak in beneath the sheets, otherwise they’d have to change the whole set. He had just about warmed through in the overheated ward.
Chloe was sitting in a bedside chair reading a copy of celebrity gossip magazine. She rose to her feet, looking sheepish. ‘Can I be excused now, Sir?’ She really couldn’t take any more of Harry’s inane banter.
‘No. Where’s that other idiot?’
‘Garda Cahill?’ Gaines said.
‘Who else do you think I mean?’
‘He’s gone to get changed and get Harry a fresh set of clothes.’
Cronin shook his head. ‘All you had to do was find the knife, not audition for an episode of E.R. How’s your hand, Harry?’
Harry tugged back the sleeve of the dressing gown, pink digits sticking out from a wrap of bandages. ‘Ten stitches.’
‘The doctor said it’s a relatively superficial wound,’ Chloe said, ‘not deep, just long.’
‘Superficial? It took ten stitches to sew it back up.’
‘Don’t be such a baby. They’ve said you can go home, haven’t they? No reason why you can’t go to work; just keep the dressing dry.’
‘So where’s this knife then?’ Cronin asked.
‘Knife?’ Harry said.
‘You know, the thing you stabbed yourself with. The knife that Jimmy Burke used to stab that poor bastard.’
‘Don’t look at me, I haven’t got it.’
‘What do you mean, you haven’t got it. I gave it to you.’
‘No, you didn’t. You must have given it to Pete.’
‘Given me what?’ Pete said, slipping between the curtains, wearing a dry, clean uniform and carrying a sports bag. ‘Sir,’ he said, noticing Cronin.
‘The knife,’ Cronin said.
‘The knife? Harry had it.’
‘I haven’t had it since you got me out of that bloody pool. I gave it to one of you two. You put it in an evidence bag.’
‘Well, you didn’t give it to me. Chloe?’
‘Don’t look at me. He gave it to you.’
‘Uh-uh, I don’t think so. You must have put it in your coat pocket,’ he said to Harry.
‘Don’t try and blame me, I found the bloody thing and I gave it to one of you two.’
‘For fuck’s sake!’ Cronin snapped. ‘I don’t care who’s got it! Just find it, okay. Without it, Jimmy Burke will probably walk.’
Burke was the local gang leader, a hard man with a fearsome reputation for having a short temper and quick fists. He’d risen rapidly through the ranks, eventually wrestling control from his former boss after a bloody coup. He’d been arrested the previous evening for a knife attack that had left a young drug pusher fighting for his life. Only Burke denied all knowledge of the attack, a witness had withdrawn his statement, and there was no material evidence in the form of bloody clothes or the knife.
‘Where’s your bag of wet clothes?’ Pete asked.
‘Under the chair,’ Harry replied.
Chloe reached in under the chair and pulled the bag out. ‘Even if we find it, it’s going to be covered in Harry’s fingerprints.’
‘That’s right, try and dump me in the shit. It wasn’t like I was trying to stab myself with the damn thing.’
‘You didn’t stab yourself, it’s a superficial wound.’
‘How can it be superficial?’ Harry said angrily, turning towards her. ‘It took ten stitches to close it up!’
‘For god’s sake, cover yourself up!’ She said, motioning towards where Harry’s dressing gown had fallen open. ‘You might have the blubber, but you don’t have one of a whale’s other attributes. It looks like a finger puppet that’s withered and died.’
Pete snorted a laugh as Harry flushed red, tugging at the dressing gown.
‘Enough!’ Cronin snapped. ‘I don’t care who’s to blame. All I care about is finding that knife and putting Jimmy Burke away for a very long time. If the knife’s not here, then you better get yourself back out to those woods and find it.’
‘I can’t go out again like this?’ Harry said, waving his hand.
‘Do I look like someone who gives a shit? Just find that knife. And get some underpants on. I agree with Garda Gaines; that thing looks like a shrivelled mole. I’ve seen more meat on a chicken leg.’
‘Your nuts would be shrivelled to raisins if you’d spent two hours shivering to death.’
‘It’s not me you need to convince, Harry. I couldn’t care less if squirrels had crawled up your leg and nibbled your nuts off. All I want to do is find this knife and go home to bed.’
‘I don’t know what you’re moaning about, it’s me who was stabbed and fell in the pool. Ten bloody stitches.’ He held up his hand.
‘You’ll just have to use the other hand and pretend it’s a stranger. Assuming you can get a grip.’
‘Ha, ha. Very funny, Pete.’
‘Am I laughing? If it wasn’t for you, we’d have been at home hours ago.’
‘If it wasn’t me, we’d have never have found that knife in the first place.’
‘Or lost it.’
‘Oh, no. No you don’t. I didn’t lose that knife. One of you two did.’
‘I don’t think so,’ Chloe said, opening the back of the car and climbing in. ‘You were the last one anyone remembers having the knife, trying to fight off a marauding condom that was several sizes too big.’
‘Fuck you, Chloe.’
‘In your dreams, Harry. And you can go fuck yourself back. Because of you, Johnny Cronin thinks I’m a fuck-up like you two.’
‘Somehow I doubt it. Johnny Cronin thinks the sun shines out of your pretty little arse.’
‘Well?’ Pete interrupted.
‘Well, what?’ Gaines said.
‘Did you find the knife?’
‘No. It’s not reception or the treatment room or in the ambulance. If it got this far, it’s disappeared.’
‘We’ll have to go back to the woods; to that pool.’
‘I can’t get this bandage wet,’ Harry said, holding up his hand.
‘You can wear a glove, or put a bag over it, but you’re coming,’ Chloe said. ‘You’re the one who stabbed himself with the bloody thing.’
‘You make it sound like I did it on purpose.’
‘A fat shirker like you, I wouldn’t put it past you,’ she said testily.
Harry twisted in the seat. ‘You may have the looks, Chloe, but you can be a right royal pain in the arse.’
‘At least I’ve got a pretty little arse, unlike your ...’
‘Knock it off, the pair of you,’ Pete interrupted, starting the car. ‘It’s like listening to a broken record. Let’s get back to the woods and find this bloody knife. And any more bickering and you’ll both be in detention.’
They were trudging through the undergrowth, tracing the route they’d taken to the laneway, scanning the ground for the knife. The soft drizzle was still falling, but the cold east wind had died to a light breeze.
‘Bloody Jimmy Burke,’ Harry muttered. ‘This is all his fault, stabbing that poor bastard. He’d kill his own grandmother if he had to.’
‘He’d kill her for fun,’ Chloe said. ‘The man is psychotic. He should be locked up in a mental institution.’
‘He’s bad not mad,’ Pete said. ‘He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s a sociopath.’
‘Psychopath, sociopath, what difference does it make?’ Chloe replied. ‘He’s got a screw loose somewhere. His has scary eyes; they have no life in them.’
‘How do you make a blonde’s eyes light up?’ Harry asked.
‘I’m warning you, Harry,’ Chloe said, her dyed blonde hair tucked up under her hat.
‘Shine a light in her ears.’
Neither Chloe nor Pete laughed.
‘Okay, okay. How about this one instead. What’s the difference between God and a surgeon?’ Harry asked.
‘God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon,’ Pete replied, tugging a bramble free that had snagged on his coat.
‘The guy who sewed up my hand thought he was bloody Zeus or Thor or one of them. A real cocky bastard.’
‘You’d think you were giving birth,’ Chloe said, ‘given the carry-on you were making. He treated you like a child, because you acted like a child.’
‘And he treated you like a teenage girl. Draw your own conclusions.’
They continued in silence for a minute or so.
‘Concerned with her shortness of breath, a man takes his wife to the hospital,’ Harry said, ‘The doctor gives her a thorough examination and then gives his prognosis: ‘Your wife has acute angina.’ To which the husband replied: ‘I know, it’s just a shame about her face.’
‘Give it a rest, Harry,’ Pete said.
‘Do you get it? Acute angina.’
‘For god’s sake, Harry.’
‘I’m just trying to lighten the mood. Jesus. God knows it’s been a crappy day.’
‘Well, those kind of jokes aren’t helping, okay? That’s how you ended up in that pool in the first place.’
‘Jesus, they’re just jokes. Why did the skeleton go to the hospital? To have his ghoul stones removed. Ghoul stones. How’s that? Better? Jesus, it was me that was stabbed.’
‘Harry, we’re not in the mood.’
They had reached the pool. The three of them stared down at the dark water, the withered condom still floating on the surface.
‘Now what?’ Harry said.
‘One of you goes down and checks for the knife,’ Chloe said.
‘One of us?’
‘I trudged round the hospital looking for the bloody thing.’
‘I’ll go,’ Pete said, setting off down the short slope.
Harry and Chloe watched him hunt around in the undergrowth.
‘It’s not here,’ he declared after a few minutes.
‘It must be in the pond,’ Chloe said.
‘Well, I’m not going in to look for it. They’ll have to get the divers in.’
‘For that? It’s only about ten feet square.’
‘I don’t see you in any hurry to dive in. It can wait for tomorrow. It’s not going anywhere, is it?’
He headed back up the steep slope. As he reached the lip one of his feet slipped on the damp leaves, shooting out from under him. Instinctively, he grabbed at Harry’s leg for support. Then both of them were tumbling. Pete hit the freezing water first, Harry landing on top of him, forcing his head under the surface.
‘Fuck!’ Harry roared.
Pete shot up, his arms thrashing.
Chloe had her hands on her knees, unable to hold back the laughter.
‘What’s so fucking funny?’ Harry asked.
‘You. The pair of you.’
‘Get down here and help us get out.’
‘I don’t think so, Harry. Us blondes aren’t very good swimmers. Besides, you’ve still got the life raft from earlier. You better check for that knife now you’re in.’
‘Fuck the knife.’
‘I wouldn’t if I were you. I doubt acute angina will suit you, Harry.’