Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book: Speak No Evil, by Martyn Waites (U.S. 2010)

Bad Vince. You know not to jump into a series in the middle. But sometimes these things can’t be helped. And the praise Martyn Waites has received made the leap worth the risk.

In the fourth novel about Joe Donovan, the journalist turned private eye lands an assignment that draws on his former profession. He’s asked to collaborate on a book with Anne Marie Smeaton, who decades earlier killed a child when she was but a child herself. Anne Marie has a son of her own now and is trying to make something of her life. But stirring up the past is awakening impulses that she can’t control, leading her to fear the worst when a teenager is murdered on her housing estate and she wakes up with blood on her hands and no memory of where it came from.

Speak No Evil, need it be said, is a dark book. It’s also an ambitious one, with multiple plotlines and a host of viewpoint characters. (Several of them are adolescents, whose rage, awkwardness and curiosity Waites depicts with unstinting honesty.) No doubt I’d have gotten more out of the book had I read the previous novels about Donovan and his compatriots at the Albion agency. Donovan’s young son has disappeared, his relationship with the rest of his family is strained, and there’s fallout from his previous cases to deal with. But Waites weaves the material in smartly so that newcomers can keep up. The greater measure of his skill is the compassion he engenders for Anne Marie, a woman who has been denied such mercy anywhere she goes. Speak No Evil is strong stuff that goes down smooth.