Sunday, October 5, 2008

Die Twice - Simon Kernick

This is another book I owe to an independent bookstore. In this case, I credit Partners & Crime and the readers' advisory skills of the staff.

Kernick is an English crime writer.Die Twice is two of his novels in one volume -- The Business of Dying and The Murder Exchange.

The Business of Dying

Detective Sergeant Dennis Milne tells us that he isn't a bad man but is idealism has turned to cynicism over the years and he now has a certain moral flexibility. Some drugs might go missing from evidence, some information get exchanged. And then there are the executions. The mysterious Raymond hires him to take out people not likely to be punished through legal channels. His latest commission to kill three drug dealers goes very wrong when Milne is seen doing the deed and later he discovers that the three men were not drug dealers but two customs agents and an accountant.

Milne is faced with trying to keep himself and his partner clear, finding out why Raymond wanted them killed, and investigating the murder/mutilation of a young prostitute.

Part procedural, part thriller, The Business of Dying is a smartly paced, engrossing story with excellent dialog and various story lines crossing and finally coming together. Not to neglect Kernick's skill with describing action and violence. It is told in first person so the reader is privy to Milne's feelings, observations, and self-doubts. U.S. readers will also learn new slang words. For example, I was unaware that prostitutes are referred to as Toms.

The Murder Exchange

The Murder Exchange takes place two years after the events of The Business of Dying. The shadow of Dennis Milne still hangs over the North London station where he worked. DI John Gallan is transferred here with a shadow of his own having been involved in covering up an incident of prisoner abuse. He also finds himself reminded of a case that was never solved, the murder of a young boy.

The novel is told from two view points, John Gallan and Max Iversson, an ex-mercenary and now a security consultant. It starts nineteen days is the past working its way to the Now that starts the book. Iversson and his team are hired by nightclub owner Roy Fowler to handle an exchange that goes wrong and very bloody. At the same time, Gallan is investigating the strange (as in cause of) death of one of Fowler's doormen.

Murder Exchange has a very good story with side plots and character relationships to move it along. The first person, alternating viewpoint style is effective and lets bits of the story to be revealed form different angles. As with The Business of Dying you get great dialog, action, violence, and some memorably nasty characters.

Lee Child provides the Foreword and he sees the third Age of of English crime fiction drawing to a close and writers like Simon Kernick leading the way into the Fourth Age. The First Age was Arthur Conan doyle and Sherlock Holmes. The Second Age covered the span between Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (sometimes referred to as the Golden Age). "The Third Age took over with Ruth Rendell and P. d. James."

Child see the Fourth Ages as reflecting the changes in England, and importantly London, itself. Ethnic diversity is now the norm and class less important. The time when "Lord Peter Whimsey could quell a street riot with his accent alone" is past. People of color and non-English can't be relegated to curiosities and villains - "The casts of characters are as instinctively multicultural as the London phone book" and "Fourth Age writers are past all that."