Michael J Malone’s first novel in what I hope will be a long series was very good; this, the second, is even better. Its structure is more adventurous, alternating two closely connected narrative threads, one in the first, the other in the third person. There’s a constant tension in both of them. They share the goal of identifying someone who targets young boys and stopping them before it’s too late, but each has other tensions specific to its characters. In one, the parents live their own nightmares as they feel responsible for the harm that has been or might be done to their sons and that they may do one another, but in the other, D. I. McBain is still being haunted by his own terrors which the resolution of the plot in the first book, Blood Tears, failed to banish.
The whole novel is saturated with guilt and, paradoxically, those pursuing the obviously ‘guilty’ perpetrator of the crimes against wee boys, while unable to shed their own feelings of responsibility for events, are able to see that the perpetrator’s motives may perhaps be explicable. The reader, too, knows right from wrong and yet is drawn into sharing the characters’ feelings of moral ambiguity.
McBain himself, while relating his version of events in relatively simple, direct terms, betrays the complexity of his character and is still the wilfully perverse copper we met in book one. He’s forever questioning his own notions of love, fidelity, responsibility and his relationships with others are precarious.
So there’s guilt, pain and darkness everywhere and they threaten to overwhelm innocence. And yet it’s a book full of humour. McBain’s one-liners are priceless (but those of his colleagues often match them). And then there’s his way with metaphor and, yes, poetic turns of phrase which complement his mastery of
street talk. It all makes him the fascinating,
attractive core of a book that asks lots of questions, answers the ones we need
to be answered, but still leaves us with plenty to think about.