There are no heroes in Gene
Kerrigan’s The Rage
. And few purely bad guys. Just people – compromised, like the city of Dublin they
People, in this crime novel, are
flawed. The good lie, cave in to others and give up the principles they thought
they lived by. The bad have people who
love them in spite of their acts, and they love them back. Most do things they
never thought they’d do. Their morality is tested, and they change.
Set sometime post 2008 after the
Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s period of rapid growth, ceased to roar, events take
place in a time when as one character notes “Everything’s upside down in this
Corruption has seeped through all
society’s levels, into its profession beyond the sell-out politicians and
dealmakers; Crooked bankers, slimy developers, dodgy lawyers, cops who cover up,
and source-revealing reporters add their sins to those of aging pedophile
priests and abusive nuns of an earlier era.
Two crimes thread through the novel
and connect high fliers with low lifes. Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey is
assigned to the first and gets a tip that changes the course of the second.
Emmett Sweetman, a crooked banker
who was about to turn evidence on developers and dealmakers, is murdered when
he answers the door of his luxury home. The weapon used connects him to the
18-month-old murder of Oliver Snead, a two-bit drug dealer who seemingly got
offed by his own kind. Finding out how
two unconnected murders connect is the job Tidey gets assigned to do.
Paradoxes of character abound. Sweetman
was up to his ears in dirty deals and cheated openly on his wife, but his
mistress, when interviewed, calls him a nice guy.
The second crime is the brainchild
of small-time gangster, Vincent Taylor, just out of a 2-year stint in “the Joy”
aka Mountjoy Prison. In a very short time, he gets cash together, finds an
empty apartment building to squat in and falls head over heels in love –the
real thing. The good life is within
reach; he organizes a heist of Protectica, a security company that transports
cash. He and his gang almost get away with the job. Unbeknownst to Vincent, a retired nun, Maura
Coady, does “the right thing” and calls Tidey to report seeing something amiss
in her neighborhood, and Taylor’s plan goes awry.
The mess left behind unleashes
Vincent Taylor’s rage. Part three of the
novel recounts the revenge he seeks on a number of people he believes have
But like Sweetman, Vincent’s not all
bad. There’s something --well, sweet about his jaunty hopefulness The clothes
he wears, the plans he shares with his new sweetheart, and the fervid love he
has for his brother all make him somewhat endearing, a pretty amazing feat
given his violence. But, hey, he’s got
principles –self-restraint and scruples as evidenced by a grudge he chooses not
Tidey does his best to work the
crimes, but is stymied along the way. In
the end, he finds his own way to tie up the two. He’s a good guy, with failures
of his own. Compromised but
compassionate, he strives to make things better for those no one else is
looking out for.
His relationship with his ex-wife,
unlike Taylor’s with his new love, is what is currently referred to as “complicated.”
What’s left out in this novel, what we don’t know– for example what led to
their divorce -- is often as intriguing
as what we know. We also only get
glimpses of the behind the scenes power brokers. We don’t get all the answers.
We’re not in on all the info. Not everything gets wrapped up. It’s a little
like the way it is in real life.
In The Rage
information, is corruption’s currency; almost every plot
twist involves someone either giving it up freely, or being pressured to do so
at a cost. A drunk tells too much about his job during a cab ride. An off-duty cop has to testify in court about what
he saw involving other officers. The retired nun tips Tidey off. A nosy neighbor blabs. And many characters tell all to save
themselves or those they love.
Kerrigan’s writing is taut and
punctuated. Three sections break into
short chapters that break into shorter bursts of plot. Each burst carries action and mood. The moods are many and range from joy to
rage, exuberance to reflection, remorse to relief, frustration to high stakes
gambling. The result is an easy-to-read, heavily modulated, variously themed,
story that propels itself.
A journalist himself, Kerrigan knows
the sins of his trade. He
doesn’t hold back on the portrait of the dogged but
overzealous young reporter whose slogans “no harm in asking—if you’re not in,
you can’t win” – prevent him from getting one message -- that of a door slamming in his face. As it turns out plenty of harm results from “just
same training has served Kerrigan well. Characterizations are quick but
detailed; dialogue is crisp. He delivers both humor and character’s
reflections on sin, penance and forgiveness with equal dexterity.
Setting supports theme. What
Kerrigan shows us of Dublin’s abandoned big dreams is worth the read alone. In
the first third, he exposes three views of the landscape the Tiger left behind.
There’s the new Criminal Courts of Justice, which features a “smoking garden,”
a tastefully designed place with wooden benches and plants where smokers can
discreetly puff and pollute out of sight, a place already littered and fraying
about its edges. The building also belies the Tiger’s imaginary money:
“The building was conceived in the exuberant period when
money was plentiful. There was so much of
the stuff that the right kind of people earned big bonuses sitting around all
day just thinking up things to spend it on. The tables of the golden circles
groaned with the weight of the feast. Their admirers piled into the property
gambling game and sufficient crumbs fall to minimum-wage level to keep the
skulls happy. Everyone knew the money-go-round would keep spinning as long as
two or three bad things didn’t happen simultaneously--- then four or five bad
things happened at once
The second is an empty unfinished MacClenaghan
building where Vincent squats. “Just six
floors, but all the emptiness around it gave it the impression of a majestic
tower.” Foundations of buildings around it that never got built have started to
The third is the home and the nouveau-riche
neighborhood Sweetman lives and dies in. Rose Cheney, Tidey’s partner describes
the neighborhood houses: “Some of them look like Barbie grew up and became a
footballer’s wife. No limit to the budget, all spent on a twelve-year –olds
notion of taste.”
In short, Kerrigan’s writing’s to
die for. And he's even kind enough to provide the bodies.