A fictional account of the murder of nineteen-year-old Pearl Gamble and subsequent conviction of Robert McGladdery, the last man to be hung in Northern Ireland, Eoin McNamee’s Orchid Blue questions the idea of justice at the same time as blending a literary element into a crime theme.
Detective Eddie McCrink, recently returned to his homeland from London, finds a town and police force eager for justice. The case is presided over by Judge Curran, whose own nineteen-year-old daughter was murdered nine years earlier in very similar circumstances. Finding himself outmanoeuvred at almost every turn by those around him, McCrink struggles against an inevitability to the proceedings that’s settled before McGladdery is even arrested. When McCrink begins his own investigation into the murder of Patricia Curran, the extent of the political corruption involved in both cases is revealed.
In the opening chapter, the style chops and changes from present to past tense, giving the reader a feeling of being somewhat removed from the events presented. The prose then plunges you headfirst into the backwater town of Newry in the 60s, where unemployment is rife and the atmosphere ominous. It’s a bleak tale of a seedy world that’s described effortlessly and vividly, the dark geography impeding the truth as much as the townsfolk. This documentary-style commentary, both challenging and impressive, does become jarring at times, pushing the reader out of the story by the commentary and beckoning him or her back in once the tale continues. The aspect I enjoyed most was the social commentary on justice at the heart of novel. The plot is almost incidental; you know what happens in the end, although later there are lingering, intriguing allusions to two possible other suspects. The book is less concerned with solving the mystery than turning justice on its head. Here McGladdery is a victim, of his circumstances at least.
McGladdery’s voice rings with realism and truth, even when his actions and statements do not. The book flows more easily when moving between characters, some of the descriptions describing the human condition in such a real and raw manner that it astounds. There’s beauty in the language, although several characters sometimes spoke in ways that for me leant more to the literary aspect of the book at the expense of authenticity. This book isn’t quite a thriller, but it does succeed as a provocative contemplation on the nature of justice.
Sarah Baker blogs at www.whatsarahreads.wordpress.com.