What should I have deduced from the fact that The Midnight Choir’s title comes from a Leonard Cohen song? That it would be hip? Sad? Dark? Here’s the quotation: “Like a drunk in a midnight choir/I have tried in my way to be free.” (The true hipsters among you will not need to Google it as I did; it’s from “Bird on the Wire.”)
Anyway, I think I need to add Irish Noir to the growing catalogue of mystery categories to avoid. True, Detective Inspector Harry Synnott of Dublin does not at any point sleep in a reclining chair with an empty bottle of booze by his side, which happens to Inspector Rebus in Ian Rankin’s mysteries. But he is, naturally, estranged from his wife and grown son. He has a troubled past in the police force. He is no longer entirely certain that he trusts himself and his sense of morality is deeply compromised.
Gene Kerrigan’s storytelling is excellent, no doubt. He pulls together the various skeins of his plot artfully and the denouement is both unexpected and satisfying. His depiction of the Ireland of the early 2000s is scathing but fascinating: it’s the era of the Celtic Tiger and the prosperity washing over Ireland seems to have intoxicated many of the characters. One get-rich quick scheme after another unmoors them. Synnott’s patient skepticism provides a reality check.
What’s more, as we get to know Synnott, our relationship to him changes. This is quite a trick for an author. We see much of the action of The Midnight Choir from Synnott’s point of view so we are implicated in his actions. I can’t say much more without giving away plot points but basically four cases intertwine here: a rape, a jewel heist, a double murder and an ugly cocktail of gang activity. Synnott is investigating two of them and as a reader you follow him at first with admiration. Then… well.
But Kerrigan is not writing just another procedural. He’s got beef with the way Ireland is run. So does Tana French, and in a way The Midnight Choir reminded me of Faithful Place, but it’s more biting. Also considerably more gruesome. The Midnight Choir is a good puzzle; well-paced, compelling, and angry. Disturbing, in fact. That may have been Kerrigan’s intention; as Stieg Larsson was, he’s a journalist. Maybe he sees fiction as a way of drawing attention to an ugly situation. It’s effective, but it may not be what you’re looking for in escape fiction.