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The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee

The Blue Tango

by Eoin McNamee

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This is the first thing I’ve read by McNamee and it is very good. It is 1952 and nineteen year old Patricia Curran has been brutally murdered (37 stab wounds), her body found, by her brother and father, on the drive up to her house. Patricia comes from a prominent family…her father is a well-known judge and her brother a rising prosecutor who is also a religious nut….but Patricia is a promiscuous young woman involved with both single and married men so her relationships at home are strained, to say the least. The novel opens with Patricia’s death but this is not your ordinary murder-mystery. We follow the investigation with the local police, supplemented by a senior London policeman brought in to finish off the case, and we learn more and more about the family and a host of other characters in the small town.

We also learn early in the novel that the wrong man will be convicted for the crime and the guilty party (or parties) from the family will be protected from even the most cursory investigation that would have revealed their guilt….when the local police arrive at the murder scene they are told that the judge does not agree to their searching the house itself and no one questions this. This only gets worse as the proper instincts of the local police detective are suppressed and the investigation, especially with the arrival of the London detectives, becomes a purely political affair marked by complicity, duplicity and incompetence. As one of the characters describes it, “…being swamped with the uneasy sense of corruption and trespass that seemed poised to envelope the whole affair.” McNamee portrays very well the racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism of the time, all the more amazing because these were so casual in this time and place; casual in the sense of being unremarked upon, simply being the way that things were.

The murder-mystery and investigation provide structure to the book, but this is really a novel about the complexity and drama of human and social relations. As one character comments, “you did not need to bring mystery with you when even the simplest of human transactions was knee-deep in perplexity.”
McNamee is a fine writer with a keen eye for character and the interplay of interpersonal relations, for the striations of society, for the human strengths and weaknesses and complexities of character and the moral ambiguities and compromises that cut across those striations, for the rationalizations and excuses that people tell themselves in their self-images, for the power of those with place and authority versus those who simply know their place and must submit to survive, for the exercise of power by the powerful to protect one of their own with any sense of justice be damned.

Almost everyone jumps on the bandwagon of badmouthing Patricia and her loose ways, finally depicting her less as a victim than someone bound for trouble and whose life could only be expected to lead to this end. It is ironical that the only person who refuses to engage in this and who will have nothing to do with demeaning her reputation is the loan shark who has been supporting the judge with loans, against his property, to cover gambling losses.

McNamee has a wonderful sense of simile and description, for example:

“It was an era when women in blonde wigs were featured lying naked across the covers of cheap paperbacks. Now they seemed forlorn but at the time they seemed magisterial in their ability to replicate glamour, and he found himself content to accept the leery collaterals of their faked magnificence.”

And this description of the local policeman looking at knives for sale in a department store, “to see if he could find a knife that fitted the pathologist’s description of the blade that killed Patricia. However, the blades he saw seemed to mandate a finesse in the matter of flesh, whereas he was looking for a knife that was short on lustre but possessed perhaps of a crude but reliable killing ability.”

An excellent novel.
  John | Dec 23, 2008 |
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"November 1952 the body of ninteen-year-old Patricia Curran was carried into the surgery belonging to the family doctor. At first Dr. Kenneth Wilson thought that she had been the victim of an accidental shooting. In fact a subsequent post-mortem revealed that she had been stabbed thirty-seven times."."The Curran family were tainted by scandal from the beginning - Judge Lance Curran, ambitious and driven, weighed down by gambling debt; the ascetic Desmond, lost in religious zealotry - and there were rumours of savage disagreements between Patricia and her mother. But most of the doubt concerned Patricia herself. Was she a spirited and confident proto-feminist, or an upper-class demi-mondaine, demanding and promiscuous? In a storm of publicity, rumour and counter-rumour, Scotland Yard dispatch Chief Inspector John Capstick uncovers a complex web of deceit. Determined to secure a conviction, Capstick's focus falls on a peripheral figure, a young army conscript, Iain Hay Gordon, who finds himself fighting for his life in the shadow of the gallows."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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