Declan Hughes: All the Dead Voices

While en route from Tokyo to Shanghai, I had a couple of books stowed in my carry-on to while away the hours in the airplane. Airplane travel is, for me, a somewhat boring undertaking, and that is as it should be. I never want to be on an airplane that offers me the excitement of, say, being a passenger in a brakeless car careening haphazardly down a narrow mountain road. But clearly the folks who say that the journey is half the fun were not talking about air travel, so I always bring a book or two and get lost in some alternative world for the duration of the flight. Outbound, I was afoot in Dublin, with Declan Hughes’ most recent thriller, All the Dead Voices. Hughes is one of those authors whose books I truly enjoy reading (and reviewing), but would never ever want to be a character in, because everyone, the hero included, suffers endlessly from beginning to end, seemingly without respite.

The book is set in modern-day Ireland, although flashbacks take the reader back to the times of “the Troubles”, when the violence and mayhem of Ulster regularly found its way through the permeable border with Ireland proper. Nowadays, the country is overlaid with a veneer of peace and prosperity, but it wouldn’t take a lot of prying to uncover some very embarrassing skeletons, even among the wealthy and well-placed. And prying is what private investigator Ed Loy does for a living; needless to say, this has rendered him distinctly persona non grata with folks on both sides of the law.

In All the Dead Voices, Loy is put in the unusual position of having to work two jobs at one time, but it quickly becomes evident that there is some overlap between the two. The first is a cold case investigation of a murder from fifteen years prior, a tax official about to go public with some damning information about several potentially dangerous men; the second case concerns the violent death of a rising soccer star, a personal acquaintance of Loy’s, whose talents on the field by all rights should have elevated him from the rough trade crowd with whom he grew up.

Loy himself is an interesting piece of characterization, a walking contradiction, not unlike Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor character in The Guards. He is something of a womanizer, a street fighter, a drinker; on the other hand, he is doggedly determined, loyal to a fault, and smart as a whip (when not sidetracked by the aforementioned boozing, brawling and babes). The minor characters are well drawn, too, each demonstrating some form of Irish ebullience overlaid with the “dour and brooding ghost that rides on their shoulders and peers in on their thoughts” (thanks to John Steinbeck for the snippet of quote). The pacing and the violence are relentless, so if you are susceptible to hyper-realistic dreams, All the Dead Voices might not be the best choice for bedtime reading.

A passing knowledge of the history of the Northern Ireland strife would serve the reader well, even a simple brush-up on Wikipedia, as some of the references are a bit obscure otherwise; that said, the writing is first rate throughout (and don’t just take my word for it; Hughes won the coveted Shamus Award for Best First Novel with the first Ed Loy thriller, The Wrong Kind of Blood.)

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