Crime author Gayle Curtis is shocked and informed by Anthony Quinn's journey into the dark heart of the Troubles
In the company of his chief protagonist, Inspector Celcius Daly, I take a trip to Anthony Quinn's fictional version of Northern Ireland: a dark and eerie but beautiful place.
As a crime novelist myself, I was pleased to have visited, but each time I put this book down – seeking respite from feeling as though I were constantly looking over my shoulder – I was glad to be home, in the safety of my study, and not roaming Quinn's disturbing streets.
Quinn's gothic world is populated by some very strange, often sinister characters, all of whom I was suspicious of – even Daly, at times. But, as with anything that is dark, creepy and filled with intrigue, we can only ever leave it alone for a short time.
Disappeared is a very well structured novel. I absorbed great hunks at a sitting. As a reader, sometimes I struggle to feel and imagine clearly the descriptive scenes and passages in books, but there was no such problem with this novel.
The action begins in a cottage owned by Special Branch agent David Hughes, who has gone missing during investigating the closed case of Oliver Jordan, a man heavily involved with the IRA who mysteriously vanished during the Troubles.
There the somewhat melancholic Inspector Daly – who recently separated from his wife – has been called to the scene of a brutal murder. The body is that of Joseph Devine, a former spy. Daly suspects that the three cases (Jordan/Hughes/Devine) are connected.
Exhuming the secrets of the past in Northern Ireland is never easy, and Daly's investigation us further hampered by the fact that he is a Catholic detective – mistrusted by his colleagues, reviled by his own people.
The sounds, emotions, atmosphere, scenery, smells and characters described by Quinn are tangible. My skin prickles; I wrap my cardigan tighter around myself and huddle further into the warmth of my armchair.
Amidst the darkness there is a silvery thread of humour running through this story – Daly's character in particular provides some much needed light relief on occasion – but it is clear that Quinn is a master of the macabre. Disappeared is an unrelentingly tense journey into the dark psyche of a troubled society.
Sentences remain in the memory. ‘...he filled his glass and returned to stare at the broken ridges shining in the moonlight like the ribcage of a hungry beast’, or ‘...now I feel her weeping inside me. It’s as if she’s wringing out my soul’ are particular favourites. 'He was surrounded by memories, the wind puncturing holes in the darkness through which ghosts could stream.'
The factual side of the book Is also incredibly interesting, especially to someone who has only a small knowledge and understanding of the Troubles. I was only a young child then, and have since relocated to England, although I do remember the news reports of those terrible times.
I enjoy the way Quinn see-saws between past and present, offering enough subtle information for the reader to grasp a simple comprehension of Northern Ireland's history without it seeming like a prosthetic limb to the rest of the story.
Quinn cleverly depicts doubt and suspicion in all of his characters, and constructs his plot in ways that should shock the most ardent fan of crime fiction.
Many theories rained in my head as I sat on the cold, dusty floor of Daly’s cottage, in front of his turf fire, trying to piece together the clues offered up by Quinn. None of my conclusions would have been of any use to Daly, however. Quinn always managed to surprise me with his conclusions.
This is a truly exceptional read which has stayed with me like the remnants of a vivid and disturbing dream; exactly how I want to feel once I have finished a book. If reading is all about escape, then Disappeared is an entertaining transportation into another world. In short, I loved it and look forward to seeing what Quinn has yet to offer.
Disappeared it out now, published by Open Road Integrated Media.