Tuesday, March 22, 2011

City of Lost Girls

No slave to the madding crowd, I. The fact that I waited six months after release to buy a book does not prevent me from waiting another six months to read it. Everyone waits their turn, no matter how much I revere their writing, or I might only read a small handful of writers.

Declan Hughes, for example.

Ed Loy is back resurrecting a friendship with a acclaimed Irish movie director he fell in with back in his Los Angeles sojourn. Ed’s job in those days was to clean up Jack Donovan’s romantic messes. That was also the cause of the falling out. Time heals most wounds, and Ed’s well along the path of understanding himself enough to forgive others, so he takes Jack’s case again, this time to determine the source of some threatening letters. When two young extra go missing from the set, Ed sees the connection no one else wants to, that three extras disappeared from the set of another Donovan film, never to be seen again.

Hughes sets himself a task with each novel. In All the Dead Voices he went back in time to show how the crimes of that book had origins in The Troubles. Here the new aspect is the introduction of first person narration from the killer’s perspective. He’s better at it than most, but the serial killer justifying himself to himself has been done so many times it’s become almost self-parody. Only the caliber of Hughes’s writing saves it from cliché, though it’s still the least strong aspect of the book.

Hughes has mastered the art of keeping a series fresh by allowing the characters to grow in non-stereotypical ways. Ed’s drinking is substantially reduced, though he’s not succumbed to the banality that accompanies the tortures of the dry drunk. His relationship with a woman is more strained by her fear that he will become too suburban than by his demons.

Tommy Owens becomes a more reliable friend all the time, accepting more responsibility and pulling it off better—though not without difficulties—with each book. Among the best sidekicks in any current series, Tommy’s value to Ed and to Hughes’s books is the equal of what is expected of Crais’s Joe Pike or John Connolly’s Louis, though Tommy is never as predictable as either.

Often compared to Chandler and Macdonald, Hughes is, to me, Ireland’s James Lee Burke. No one else can get away with the florid, unabashedly beautiful use of the language in describing actions that are far removed from any beauty, and still manage to keep the beauty in the description alone, attributing none to the act. No need to resort to odd spellings and apostrophes; the accents are right there on the page for anyone who reads with his ear as well as his eyes, and anyone who knowingly chooses to read Hughes with his eyes only is a fool.

One of the nice things about reading books a year after their release is that the next installment is that much closer. Lucky me.

No comments: