Monday, November 5, 2012

Review of Slaughter’s Hound by Declan Burke (Liberties Press, 2012)

After a spell in mental health unit after killing his brother, Harry Rigby, one time private investigator, is now driving a taxi and making ends meet shipping drugs round Sligo town on the Northwest coast of Ireland.  Finn Hamilton, his independently wealthy former room-mate, runs a pirate radio station, broadcasting from the top of the old Port Authority tower.  After a late night run to drop off some weed, Harry watches Finn dive from his studio, landing head first on his cab.  Rather than wait for the police to arrive he heads to Finn’s mother to tell her of her son’s death.  It's the early hours of the morning, but Harry’s day is about to get a whole lot worse as everything he does leads to more woes - tangling with an ambitious cop, ex-paramilitaries turned drug dealers, the warring Hamilton family, a dodgy solicitor and his bodyguard, and his former partner and teenage son.  Harry is on a downward spiral, but he’s resourceful and fighter, and he’s determined to get to the bottom of Finn’s supposed suicide dive - especially since if he didn't dive, he's the prime suspect for pushing him to his death.

Slaughter’s Hound is the sequel to Eight Ball Boogie, Burke’s first novel published in 2004.  In the intervening time he’s published three other novels, the last of which, Absolute Zero Cool, was my read of 2011.  Burke’s trademark as a wordsmith is in strong evidence in Slaughter’s Hound, the sense of place and characterisation is strong throughout, and the noir plot was nicely constructed.  However, for me it was a book of two halves.  After an excellent opening scene, the first half I found quite slow and ponderous and I struggled to get into the story.  It lacked the pace, wit and action of his other work, sacrificed to in-depth characterisation and observational asides.  The second half, in contrast, was excellent with dark humour, pathos, and twists and turns aplenty as it hurtled to its sinister, action-packed resolution.  If the first half had been compressed into a third, then this would have been a really great read.  As it stands, Slaughter’s Hound is a good, solid, noir tale, firmly rooted in North West Ireland.       


Declan Burke said...

Much obliged, Rob. I'm disappointed you didn't enjoy the book more, of course, but it's a solid critique, and I do appreciate that you probably thought long and hard about writing this. If you feel Slaughter's Hound isn't up to the mark, then fair play to you for saying so - it'd have been much easier for you to duck the review entirely, I'd imagine, given that we've met on a few occasions.

Cheers, Dec

Rob Kitchin said...

Dec, yes, thought long and hard about this one. Much more difficult to openly review a book if you know the person. My feeling on this is that a reviewer gives an honest assessment of all books they read/review or they shouldn't bother reviewing any at all. As the review says, AZC was my book of the year in 2011, so SH had a hard task to match that. For me, the second half did, as did the opening. And whilst the first half was solid enough it didn't sparkle in the same way. As I said to someone else recently, 7/10 is still a decent score (though, I think, disappointing for authors in the age of the ubiquitous 5 star Amazon review).