Declan Hughes doesn’t just write suspenseful thrillers - his novels are violent whirling cyclones, the characters swept up inexorably into a twisted psychological maelstrom. Incest, fixing horse races, dealing smack, experimental breeding of horses (and humans), Judas-like betrayals of dark secrets, blackmail: these are just some of the ingredients that Hughes brings together, whipping up the action like a jockey urging his ride to victory. There are also the evils of St. Jude’s reform school, where child abuse takes place under the Church’s auspices, and where a system of selecting jockeys develops based upon their agreeing to play along with the stable owner’s (F.X. Tyrrell’s) homosexual advances.
Not enough to whet your appetite for a seriously excellent and excellently perverse novel? There’s also a crazed serial killer who cuts out his victims’ tongues after strangling them to death and hangs a bag of thirty coins around their necks. He is going after members of the Tyrrell family, and PI Ed Loy has his hands full trying to put a stop to the psycho’s murderous spree. But who will suffer along the way as more and more secrets come to light?
In debt and between jobs since his investigation of the Howard case depicted in the prior novel, The Color of Blood (also about a very screwed-up family, incest, secrets and murder), Ed Loy is offered $5,000 and a name - Patrick Hutton - by Father Vincent Tyrrell. Patrick was a jockey who mysteriously disappeared ten years ago after riding one of the most famous horses of the day, By Your Leave, in a race. Vincent’s brother, Francis Xavier (F.X.) Tyrrell, was the horse’s owner and trainer. Vincent tells Loy that he’s dying of cancer and wants ro set “a few affairs in order. Chief among them Patrick Hutton.” That’s slim information for Loy to go on, but his dwindling finances make it difficult for him to say no, so he accepts the case.
Soon after, the bodies start piling up. While investigating a concurrent ongoing case (a relatively simple one in which Ed agrees to help the Leonards find out who has been illegally dumping on their premises by tailing Vinnie Butler, the most likely suspect - “The Butlers eat their young. They’re a tribe of savages, Ed,” Loy’s friend Tommy informs him), he comes across a man’s corpse at a dump site. The man is short of stature, has blue eyes and blond hair, and closely resembles a photograph of Patrick that he got from the jockey’s wife, Miranda. His tongue has been cut out, a bag of thirty coins tied to him, and on his forearm two tattooed symbols that resemble a crucifix and the Greek letter omega.
Now employed at the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation after getting promoted from the Seafield Garda because of the Howard case, Loy’s friend Dave Donnelly tells him of another body found mere hours earlier: the PI previously hired by Loy, Don Kennedy, who has been missing for two years. His tongue has also been cut out post mortem, a bag of coins tied to him and a similar tattoo elsewhere on his body. At the same time, Donnelly has to contend with jealous co-workers who think he didn’t deserve his promotion, and a marriage that is on the rocks.
Declan Hughes’ growing legions of fans will thoroughly enjoy The Price of Blood, and it is sure to garner him many new fans with its noir-ish blend of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett-style grit and Declan’s sometimes lyrically poetic descriptions and turns of phrases. I really like immersing myself in Dick Francis’s world of horse racing, so when I heard that Declan Hughes’s latest novel (which I’d wanted to read and review anyway) involved the horse-racing scene in Ireland, that made me want to read this book that much more. It’s rawer in its use of expletives than Francis, but it does not fail to please with its intricate and suspenseful plot.
Want to read about a family even more dysfunctional than your own? I highly recommend you check out both this book as well as Hughes’s first two books featuring PI Ed Loy, The Wrong Kind of Blood and The Color of Blood.