Shoot by Kieran Crowley
|Shoot by Kieran Crowley|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A dastardly political plot, played more for laughs than it needed to be. I’d have preferred this one played straight, but the funnies are kept in check enough for the plotting and puzzling to keep you entertained and wondering who actually did kill the presidential candidate in a hotel full of Second Amendment righters.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: November 2016|
|Publisher: Titan Books|
|External links: Author's website|
I make something of a habit of being late to discover good writers, in this case getting to Crowley after he is no longer with us. The result is that what is billed as an F.X. Shepherd mystery with all the optimism of there being more to come has the poignancy of being, if not the last of a short line, certainly one of a few.
F.X. Shepherd – he doesn't like his first name and prefers just "Shepherd" is, technically, a columnist. He's been sacked by one New York newspaper and is writing a weekly column for another. I don't know much about journalism, but I'm guessing one column a week doesn't pay much as a rule…which explains why Shepherd's soap-washed-foul-mouthed editor (read the book, you'll see what I mean) expects him to turn in some genuine journalism as well: front page, seat of your pants stuff.
Well, he lives in New York, the Republican Party has a convention in town to nominate the next presidential candidate and he has a press pass – how hard can it be?
A lot harder once his third eye starts twitching. Shepherd is ex-military. He's served in deserts and other places. He knows what it's like to be hunted and as a result that sense we all have and most of us ignore is highly developed: he knows when he's being followed.
Sadly, he's not quite so good at spotting who's doing it. As it turns out: at the beginning of the story, someone who wants to offer him a job; as the story progresses: other people, who, well, don't.
And so…he finds himself hired as a Private Investigator with his first commission primarily to keep the presidential candidate alive and, if possible, find out who might be trying to kill him.
So far so standard thriller fare. Crowley's style however is to inject a serious dose of a particular kind of humour into affairs…so let's imagine the presidential nomination congress getting a little more right wing than usual, let's imagine, say, that 'the right to bear arms' is taken to its literal extreme. When a body is found in one of the luxury suites, just about every gun-toting delegate in the place is a suspect. They are also potential victims.
I thoroughly enjoyed Shoot – but I can't help thinking that this was despite the humour rather than because of it. Crowley's former life as a journalist shines through. He clearly understands how the press works, why some things will be held but others released immediately, why some things go straight to the web but others will be cossetted for print editions, how writers might circumvent the strict-interpretation laws of defamation, how the press and the police work together and separately and against each other as pressures dictate. The sheer frustration of having been part of that world where information was currency, competition was vicious, but ultimately the bond that tied everyone seemed to be the frustration of rarely being able to make the relevant difference, that's what seeped around the edges for me. Through his character, Shepherd, Crowley gets to break all the rules.
Doing so with tongue firmly in cheek may make this book less offensive to certain parties than it would have been if he'd written it straight. It's hard to believe that this isn't – at least in part – more slightly disguised journalism. Not on the facts involved obviously, but on the environment and the circumstances that allow this particular crime to play out.
So far as the silliness is concerned you can expect tabloid dirty tricks to get the story-line and the headlines that result, unrealistic fight sequences including Facebook Ninja and a neat turn in how to negotiate with the latest Godmother.
Realistic scary stuff comes in the shape of drone technology and political conspiracy and the insights into what U.S. electoral colleges might be focussing on and just why the focus on the original constitution really does need to be consigned to the history books in favour of getting with the fact that the world might just have moved on in the last two hundred and forty years or so.
Characterisation is on the simple side: our hero loves his dog and his girlfriend, but plays away at the drop of a hat. He has all of the connections you need a PI to have if he's got any chance of getting to the real story, friends in law enforcement, in the judiciary, in the ME's office, in the media. His girlfriend's a vet (as in animal doctor not war-hero) and his parents are 1960s hangovers still on the streets protesting against the rich, and having not the first notion of the first rule of parenting: love your kid. He's got Jack Reacher's skills and morals, but there's also something of Dirk Gently's inept person-centred approach to solving problems. The cops do their job to the best of their ability – to Crowley's credit he doesn't take the easy route of making the law enforcers look clueless, even if he does emphasise the constraints that don't always help them do their job – especially in the US where you have so many agencies competing for territory.
So, on balance, the satire works, a lot of the humour for me was over-played, (but if you like Tom Sharpe you'll find it too subtle – each to their own), I just got caught up in the story and wanting to know who the bad guys were and how they'd get their come-uppance. No spoiler there – it's a feature of the genre that that must happen – it's all in the how… and as I've fallen into name-checking similar characters, the final how does have the teeniest touch of the James Bonds about it, with a lovely, horrible twist.
For something very different but with a crime/humour link you might also like Beyond Belief by Mark Lingane.
You can read more book reviews or buy Shoot by Kieran Crowley at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Shoot by Kieran Crowley at Amazon.com.
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