Crime by Irvine Welsh
|Crime by Irvine Welsh|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Paul Harrop|
|Summary: A slick, foul-mouthed, violent crime thriller which charges headlong into paedophilia and some dodgy psychology, but still somehow succeeds on several levels.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: July 2008|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
On the face of it, this novel appears to be what its terse title implies: a Welshian take on the genre novel. All the stereotypes are there. Its protagonist is a clever but disillusioned Edinburgh cop. A maverick, at odds with his less principled bosses, he's relieved of his duties after a mental collapse. Yet he finds himself drawn back into the underworld that has almost destroyed him.
While its starting point is hoary enough, Welsh builds upon it a compelling study of the psychology of abuse and revenge. I'm not familiar enough with Welsh's other work to know if this is typical, but I recognised his trademarks: the foul language; the phonetic rendering of Scots accents (but also American this time, as the novel is set partly in Florida); the drug abuse, the sex and the graphic violence.
Our hero is Ray Lennox, a 35-year old detective inspector. We meet him on holiday in Miami Beach, planning his wedding with his attractive younger fiancée. He’s recovering from a breakdown after a case in which he has captured the abductor of seven-year old Britney Hamil. But not before she has been brutally raped and killed.
Lennox feels that he has failed Britney. But, as we discover, his feelings and motivations are deeper and more complex than merely someone who has fallen short of their own high standards. Because Lennox is a driven man. He is not just a polisman. He is a beast hunter. He's motivated solely by an episode of abuse in his childhood to pursue those who prey on children, fuelled by a grievous sense of wrong and an insatiable cocaine habit.
So it is not a complete surprise that while on holiday, he stumbles across a nest of paedophiles and, in a bizarre series of events, finds himself transporting ten-year-old abuse victim Tianna across Florida in an increasingly chaotic crusade to save her, and to exorcise his own demons.
The narrative alternates between a conventional third-person, present tense mode for the US scenes, and the more unusual second-person voice for flashbacks in which Lennox obsessively revisits the Britney Hamil case.
The use of the second person is highly effective and gives the reader a sense of Lennox's self-lacerating struggle with his supposed betrayal of Britney and the traumas of his past. It can be read either as a sort of internal monologue, or as the author's recounting of Lennox's confidences. As such it is, outside of avant-garde literature, a rare but convincing way of overcoming the problem of the author's omniscience, while acting as a useful distancing device.
Which is not to say that the storytelling is ever anything but taut and vivid. Welsh packs in atmospheric details of the seedy clubs, grubby motels and simmering everglades as Lennox charges into a maelstrom of danger. This mirrors perfectly the perilous moral ground upon which Lennox travels, his moral certainties undermined as he is brought face-to-face with Tianna's juvenile sexuality, forced to glimpse what drives the nonces that he so vehemently hates.
In tackling such contentious subject matter Welsh is navigating territory every bit as swampy as the Florida wilderness. That he comes out of it pretty much unscathed is to his credit as a chronicler of human frailty, and to his writing chops. His spare use of witty irony and symbolism prevents us from engaging entirely with Lennox’s monomaniacal quest, while enabling us to sympathise, even at his most extreme moments of deranged violence.
Although I wasn't entirely convinced by the psychological accuracy of Lennox's supposed motivations, I was enthralled by the pace and vitality of the writing, and by the immersion it provides into one man's personal hell and ultimate, if slightly pat, redemption. This is a compelling and provocative book. Even if, unlike, most of the 'adult' books I read, I did not feel able to let my 14-year-old daughter anywhere near it.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For more of Welsh you might like to looks at If You Liked School, You'll Love Work by Irvine Welsh.
You can read more book reviews or buy Crime by Irvine Welsh at Amazon.com.
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