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A long time ago, Eoin McNamee wrote a novel called The Blue Tango about the true unsolved murder of a Judge Lance Curran's daughter Patricia in 1952. The novel did not offer up any answers, but did nudge readers in various directions. There wasn't anything at the time to indicate a trilogy in the making.

We met Judge Curran again in McNamee's 2010 Orchid Blue. Here, he was presiding at the 1962 murder trial of Robert McGladdery, the last man to be hanged in Northern Ireland. It offered a greater insight into the life and mind of Lance Curran.

Now, with Blue Is The Night, we find the two previous novels joined by a third that is part new case - the murder of Mary McGowan and trial of Robert Taylor, and partly a revisiting of Patricia Curran's murder with the occasional mention of McGladdery thrown in for good measure. It is a strange novel that doesn't quite fit within conventions. Perhaps it is the power of suggestion with a quote from David Peace on the front cover, but it is not unlike Peace's Nineteen Eighty-Three in revisiting past novels.

Again, as with The Blue Tango and Orchid Blue, this instalment doesn't really answer the unknowable questions. Instead, it focuses on the sleaze and decay that was eating the heart out of Ulster society in the days before The Troubles. There was a constant threat of violence and breakdown of civil order. There was an understanding that ends justified means, and if a guilty man walking free was the price to be paid for civil order then it was a price worth paying (compare and contrast with guilty men being released from jail under the Good Friday Agreement, again to secure civil order in Northern Ireland). Now, of course Eoin McNamee is not a neutral observer. As an Ulster Catholic, he is bound to have his own perspective and will have his own points to make. But, even accepting that there may be two sides to a story, McNamee presents his story well. There are enough discontinuities and nuances to add plausibility. There are lines to read between. There are nudges and winks.

And at the heart of it all, we have Lance Curran. Eoin McNamee has a fascination with players who step outside their roles. Justice Curran is such a man - on the one hand, a unionist Member of Parliament and Attorney General; a successful lawyer and member of the establishment, but on the other hand he is willing to prosecute a Protestant for the murder of a Catholic; he is a problem gambler; he has a "fast" daughter, a son who is training for the priesthood and a wife who grew up in Broadmoor. He comes across as reckless, lacking strategy and living for kicks. He is a man who would play with law and order - play with people's lives - just as he would play with dice. He has ambition, but no direction.

Curran has a number of foils, particularly his election agent Harry Ferguson with whom he seems to have a relationship of mutual contempt. But also there is his dysfunctional family and a revolving cast of the great and the good. We see government as being tight and shady, double-faced.

The murder, the trial and Robert Taylor are well drawn. McNamee manages to wring tension from the courtroom drama even though Taylor's guilt is not in doubt and the outcome (by inference) is known. If there is a gripe, it is that the dialogue scenes from the 1960s between Harry Ferguson and Curran's estranged wife Doris are hard to follow and seem to obscure rather than illuminate. Also, the revisiting of Patricia Curran's murder serves to reopen The Blue Tango and suggest that not all the relevant material had been presented to the reader at the time. That grates a bit.

But, overall, I have to agree with David Peace that this is a genuine, original masterpiece.

 

*****

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It sounds like it would be best to read the first two novels before this one, Mr HG?

 

Difficult to say as I can't unread the other books to experience this one fresh. I would have thought there was enough in this one to fill in the background, but you might find it a bit of an odd book in that it would have these secondary story lines that did not get the amount of coverage their importance deserves.

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