Book review: For any other truth, by Denzil Meyrick
This is the ninth in Denzil Meyrick’s DCI Daley detective story series set primarily on the Mull of Kintyre and, as is often the case with such sequences, they have gotten longer and the storylines more complicated. As is also sometimes the case, it seems, especially in the first chapters or even for the first half of the book, that the author was more interested or concerned with the privacy of his police officers and other local figures than with his plot. We have seen this happen with other mystery writers, Ruth Rendell, Susan Hill and John Harvey, up to Dorothy L Sayers. It’s not surprising. The authors are at least as interested in their familiar characters as in the intrigues they conceive for them.
At the same time, detective stories are getting longer and bigger. The plots are more complex, the crimes and plots more sensational and outlandish. The cast of characters is larger, although few outside of those readers are already familiar with, are granted a much more compelling individuality. There are an exception or two here, but the villains tend to be flat characters. The interest is in what they do rather than in what they are or can be.
Meyrick’s new novel begins with a mysterious plane crash. There is no pilot and the two passengers dressed in the same clothes were dead before the light aircraft touched the ground. There is nothing, it seems, to identify them. However, ghosts, in the form of MI5, are soon involved, and an experienced tabloid reporter has his eyes set on a scoop. Then Hamish, the old fisherman who is a regular at the County Hotel bar, disappears. Superintendent Carrie Symington is blackmailed, while Daley’s co-worker and closest friend Brian Scott struggles with his strangely-acting son Will, in his twenties.
The complicated but often swift plot involves eco-warriors planning an act of terrorism, their relationship with unreconstructed provisional IRA men, kidnappings, mysterious whereabouts between Kintyre and County Antrim in Ireland’s North, amazing escapes and dangerous journeys, shootings and brawls. There is no shortage of action.
Maybe there is too much action, because there are few times when we are hanging around waiting for things to happen. Achieving that balance between expectation and incident is never easy. It is not always clear what is going on, but there is no doubt that the reader is meant to be puzzled. All the novels like this run the risk of falling into the absurd when the tale becomes unbelievable. Here the author vacillates on this point, but he writes with such gusto and conviction that I suppose most readers will be satisfied, even if they are puzzled and unsure of what is going on.
The novel is a good example of black tartan and has the strengths and weaknesses common to this fictional brand. The strengths lie in the writer’s sense of place and her ability to tell a compelling story, no matter how unlikely it would be if she were reduced to her bare bones. The characters who feature in the earlier novels in the sequence acquire a familiarity that allows the extravagant narrative to somehow stay grounded in a recognizable reality.
But the Tartan Noir novels have for the most part only fragile and often frayed links with reality. No matter how gruesome a death scene may be, the reader is well aware that what appears to be blood is just ketchup. The more extravagant the plot, the more violent the individual scenes can be, the looser the connection to actual crime. When the narrative is strong enough to hold interest and attention, as is the case with Meyrick’s novel sequence, we are presented with entertainment that has as little to do with individual or social experience as novels from the golden age of detective fiction. In short, we are offered an escape hokum, but when it comes to a good quality escape hokum, as is the case here, you get a novel that you may read with pleasure. growing.
For All Other Truth, by Denzil Meyrick, Polygon, 424 pages, £ 8.99
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