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by Declan Hughes
John Murray, May 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0719567459

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Just occasionally you read a piece of writing and it feels like an intellectual exercise. Technically it's fine, but the heart and emotion are missing. Declan Hughes's THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD teeters precariously on this precipice.

Edward Loy returns to Dublin from Los Angeles after 20 years away for the funeral of his mother. Within ten pages, a pretty woman has got her tongue down his throat and has employed him as a PI to find out who bumped off her husband. And from then on there's lashings of blood and violence, and a hefty helping of family secrets going way back when -- including Ed's own.

And that's both the weakness and the strength of THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD. In theory, setting a noir crime novel in Dublin is a damn good idea. In practice, though, Hughes doesn't quite engage the reader. Reading the book reminded me of Sarah Dunant's Hannah Wolfe series which introduced the concept of a female PI in London. That series, too, was well-written, but emotionally detached.

Dublin's a great setting for a noir novel, with its posh southside houses set against the drug-ridden council estates, and the constant echo of police and council corruption. And showing it through the eyes of someone returning from overseas is a neat idea, as it brings out the vast changes that both the city and the country have gone through in the past ten or 15 years.

Ed, in the end, though, just isn't that engaging a character. He naturally turns up with a ton and a half of personal baggage, which is spread out in front of the reader as the book progresses. But he's a cold and distant narrator. So when he's called on to do grief several times during the book, it never quite convinces.

The book's slow to get going, and the middle sags -- it took me several goes to get going again I'd set it down. But the ending compensates for this as Hughes does a good job of pulling the threads together while keeping the action moving -- and leaving it open for Ed to return in future books.

Hughes is a playwright, and this is his debut novel. Oddly enough the dialogue doesn't crackle in the way you'd expect it to in the hands of someone used to writing for the stage. But THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD is strong enough to suggest that Hughes can transfer successfully to crime fiction once he lets his characters off the leash and forgets some of those genre cliches.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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