Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: Hidden River

Hidden River Hidden River by Adrian McKinty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one isn’t great art, but, oh, is it a lot of fun.

Check your skepticism at the door if you feel like giving this a shot. It turns on several hard-to-believe coincidences – something that ordinarily bothers me a great deal. [SPOILER] To start with, what are the odds that our hero would escape injury so often, that he’d never be suspected in the range of killings and set-ups he’s behind, that he’d get hired at the one environmental group that he wanted to investigate in the first place, that he’d find two guys loyal to him to the death, or that no one would ever bother to ask him what happened to John once he returned to Ireland without him.

Those are, in most cases, the sorts of holes I’d feel a truck driving through. They’d distract me to the point of not caring about anything else.

Oddly, though, McKinty pulls off the opposite trick here. I find myself – for reasons I can’t fully identify –drawn to the character and the situation. Alex is a Jewish cop in the middle of Belfast’s Catholic/Protestant wars. He’s a too-good-for-his-own-good cop, and he’s a heroin addict. He has a mysterious history from the end of his police career, and now he’s a wit’s end.

It’s fun to get McKinty’s hardboiled take on Belfast – I read his The Cold, Cold Ground which I liked at least as much and admired more – and then it’s fun to see him grapple with the different world of Denver. He has a tone and a way with character that grips you – or grips me at least.

It’s fun as well to feel him manipulating you throughout. In this case, he’s even somewhat clumsy. [SPOILER: I knew from early on that Amber was the real threat.] But so what? Most of the fun is in seeing the oh-so-clever Alex get confused in the midst of his sex-and-heroin lust.

I don’t want to lean too heavily on this because I suspect my enjoyment of it would come tumbling down if I worried too much about things like how it morphs from a confession from someone who seems already dead (in classic noir-like feel) to a feel-good self-transformation instead. Or about how seriously to take the Hindu theology thread that runs throughout, even giving the novel its name.

No, bottom line, this is a guilty pleasure that I can recommend to others only with mixed feelings. But I promise you that I’ll be snatching up the next McKinty I come across, and I bet it will make it from the to-read pile into my hands pretty quickly.

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