Monday, January 5, 2015

Review: Dead Gone by Luca Veste

Although I say I like crime fiction, that's not entirely true. I like noir, hardboiled, pulpy stuff. I don't restrict myself too much, but whenever I say I like crime fiction people start reeling off famous authors that I would never consider reading. One sub genre I have never gotten into is police procedurals and police thrillers. In fact, over the last year I've read half a dozen in this vein (mostly to do with university), some by huge names in the biz, and ended up rolling my eyes so much at the cliches and leaden plotting that my wife started to worry I'd developed some kind of tic. Actually true.

On the other hand, I've read a bunch of Luca's shorter stuff and I know the guy can write. So what the hell, I thought. I'll give it a go.

And you know what? Bloody loved it. This is a novel so tightly plotted that you couldn't slip a stilletto knife between the chapters. Clues, suspects, red herrings, they're all neatly handled and deftly dropped. No eye-rolling this time. The characters are well-drawn, honest, troubled, flawed, real people. And if the killer is, necesarily, a little OTT, he is given a refreshing dose of down-to-earthness in the grim settings of Liverpool.

In fact it's fair to say that if this had been placed in some larger than life American city, or the cliched American every-town, I would have had trouble with it. The mean streets of such a straightforward and British place (not to mention Luca's scouse credentials) somehow lend credence to the more outlandish plots that you find in any such book. The city is obviously going to play a large part in the ongoing series so it was a real writing master-class to see how Luca handled it. The city is not quite a character - Luca walks a fine line to stop it from over-reaching. It's very well drawn, yet subtly downplayed. It's very constant but not in your face. Well played. Plenty more of that to come, I'm sure.

As for the killings, they're certainly gruesome enough. Luca knows his psychopathy, that's for sure. And the main characters, Murphy and Rossi, are a nice little duo. They alternately bounce or clash off each other very well and it's a pleasure to spend time with them. Never too smart, never too stupid, like the city they are finely balanced. There's history, depth, struggle, but none of this is overplayed. He left himself plenty more room to play with.

In fact, another crime staple I've never had much truck with is the ongoing series compared to the standalone novel. The way Luca has handled his debut, and with book #2 The Dying Place out now, I might just have to revise that as well.