I wasn’t sure what to expect in Burke’s Irish thriller, humor and crime not of particular interest to me. But I was seduced by Burke’s writing style - short, incisive dialog, heavy on attitude and rife with implication.
When Karen and Ray first meet, he staring into the barrel of her gun in a local robbery, it is clear that this novel will be taking an offbeat approach to its conclusion. Intrigued by one another (Karen given to one-offs to supplement her income, Ray a “babysitter’ of sorts, kidnapping victims of elaborate ransom schemes), the attraction is irresistible. Karen overrides her normal reluctance to avoid romantic entanglements: “For a woman, it’s the right way, but for a guy, it’s the right time.”
Besides, Karen’s ex, Rossi, is about to be released from prison, sure to cause more complications in her already dysfunctional world. There’s just something about Ray, who also paints murals for his clients, who casually claims he is retiring from the babysitting business due to a change of partners, maybe one more job left to do.
The cast of characters isn’t extensive, but it makes up in eccentricity what it lacks in numbers. Doyle, an observant detective, puts two and two together and comes up with a career-making investigation. Frank, a plastic surgeon only qualified to do consultations, is embroiled in a bitter divorce settlement with an ex-wife and twin daughters who give him no respect - and rightfully so. Madge, Frank’s ex, is tapped by a kidnapping-ransom caper to get Frank out of debt. Sleeps, Rossi’s narcoleptic, drug-injecting driver, falls asleep at the wheel at inopportune times.
Although the novel is light on violence, it is a great study on human nature and the malcontents who live on the fringes of society, unbelievably innovative in creating alternatives to regular employment when financing their needs. There are no upright citizens here except perhaps Doyle, but even she is relegated to the role of wry observer.
No, these characters are a lose assemblage of accidents waiting to happen to one degree or another. While Ray is certainly the most sympathetic, Karen runs a close second given her traumatic life experience. Then there is Madge, the kidnapping victim, a joint-toking fifty-one-year-old with no illusions and a profound disrespect for her Frank, who is such a sad case that his current girlfriend mocks him while freely spending his money.
That Frank would turn to crime to solve his problems is not surprising; his imagination is somewhat hampered by the drugs and alcohol he imbibes from dawn ‘til dusk. Throw in a half-wolf canine that has been passed from one brutal owner to another, and you have a tale that begins with criminal intent and snowballs into a messy denouement that leaves little doubt about Burke’s skills as a writer of an ironic and entertaining thriller.