Few mystery fans have not heard of Ken Bruen. Less well-known is his countryman, Declan Hughes, an Irish playwright turned mystery writer. I happened to be a part of the Shamus Award committee for Best First PI Novel when Hughes's first book, The Wrong Kind of Blood, Harper Collins, 2006, was submitted.
The Wrong Kind of Blood features California PI Ed Loy who returns to Ireland, his birthplace, after a twenty-year absence. Loy is here for his mother's funeral. The book hooked me in two sentences.
"The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband. Now she was lying dead on her living room floor, and the howl of a police siren echoed through the surrounding hills."
As the opening conveys, Loy becomes involved with a woman who hires him to find her missing husband. She later turns up dead. There are a lot of bodies in this book, some buried in the foundations of the city's town hall. Others are buried in Loy's past along with resentment for his mother who entered a sexual relationship with another man shortly after his father's disappearance. There are corrupt real estate deals, drug running, and blood. A lot of blood. Loy is the kind of PI who uses his head for butting as much as for cogitation.
The best part of the book, however, is Hughes's unflinching eye for modern-day Ireland, which one character claims is the 51st state of the United States. Loy has been gone too long from Ireland and he has difficulty accepting the changes.
"Seafield Town Hall stands at the top of the main street. You can see it from the harbor, and walking right up the town toward it gives you a sense of how the town used to fit together. It's a substantial late nineteenth-century granite-clad building with a clock tower, council chambers, and public reception rooms. At least, it once was all of those things. Now, it’s a Macdonald's. I stood outside it feeling utterly bewildered, like George Bailey in Pottersville."
In the end, Loy comes to terms with Ireland and his own past.
"You can't outrun your past. I spent twenty years in a country dedicated to that very idea. But it doesn't work. Your blood might be wrong, but it's your own. Your past is always waiting for you, and the longer you leave it, the less prepared you are. I had left it long enough."
Reader's who expect the gritty noir of Ken Bruen might be disappointed. What they will find, though, is a fast-paced book with well-drawn characters and vivid descriptions of the sights and smells of modern Dublin.
The Wrong Kind of Blood won the Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel of 2006.
The Color of Blood and The Price of Blood followed it, all featuring Ed Loy who brings to Dublin the excitement that Spencer brought to Boston.
The Bushmill's is gone for now, but there will be many more glasses to look forward to in the future to go with many more Irish mysteries. Erin Go Braugh!