Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Lost and the Blind, by Declan Burke

If you've read a few of Declan Burke's novels, as I have by now, you know that past outings may not offer much of a clue as to what the present one will be like. From the madcap circus that was The Big O and its sequel Crime Always Pays, to a true one-off, Absolute Zero Cool, in which a character named Declan Burke wrestles with a eye patched character of his own invention (and not just on paper), to the hard boiled adventures of investigator Harry Rigby in Eightball Boogie and Slaughter's Hound (and this last is so hard boiled it's like someone forgot to set the timer) there are many variations in tone and effect.

The Lost and the Blind follows a more traditional course, and may in part be a tribute to some famous writers of the last century. And in fact one of the characters is just such a writer. The reclusive Sebastian Devereaux is supposedly a kind of Alistair MacClean wanna be.

Nevertheless there are some common Burkian themes in this book. When Burke writes single point of view protagonists, they tend to be a bit like Tom Noone. These guys are likeable but difficult and usually have a fractured relationship or a family in tatters in the background. There's a great empathy for children in the books, and also for fathers, who, in these stories, usually make a wrong decision that affects their kids in some way. And in fact, children are again in play in the historical tale within the tale here.

That tale has a German submarine, nasty Nazi tricks, spies and rumors of gold, and all of them happening on an innocent seeming little island off the coast of Donegal called Delphi.It's interesting as I think about it now, that Delphi perhaps stands in for the larger Emerald Isle, or at least the Republic. As and American, I may not be entirely alone in forgetting that the Republic of Ireland was neutral in the Second World War, not because of an ideological stance sympathetic to Germany, but because of its own troubled history with England.  It's interesting to me that a couple of crime novels have dealt with the consequences of that war and that position lately, as if it's time to give this period an airing. Stuart Neville's Ratlines is the one that springs to mind, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were more.

Tom's offered a significant fee if he will go to Delphi and ghostwrite the story of Devereaux. It's a dicey proposition, but Tom's custody hearing for his young daughter Emily is looming, and Tom is determined to look more financially respectable by the court date. You can sense too that Tom's desperation to get a contract signed is also every freelance writer's life writ large. A sense of proportion doesn't necessarily come into it.

I liked the addition of the police officer Alison Kee as both Noone's nemesis and fellow hunter for the the gold--or is it the hunt for Devereaux? Or maybe something else entirely. As usual, Burke's stories get more and more twisty as they go along. Tom Noone is a hard man to pin down, but Kee seems to be a match for him--perhaps in more ways than one.


  1. Burke never ceases to amaze me. As you said, each book has some common elements noticeable to those who read him regularly, but the topics--and, to some extent, the styles--might be anything. Only Scott Phillips (in my experience) can shift as broadly, and successfully, as does Burke.

  2. Yes, I read your blog post about the book and I think we have similar experiences reading him, Dana. When you consider that he's also edited or co-edited a couple of anthologies, plus seems to be indefatigable on the reviewing side, it's really hard to take his measure.