This week we have a couple of novels that manage to walk that delicate tightrope of humour and darkness. First up is the The Hoarder, the second novel from Irish author Jess Kidd, whose debut, Himself, was shortlisted for a bunch of prizes in 2016.
The Hoarder shares a lot of similarities with Kidd’s irrepressible debut, uniting wonderful creativity and imagination, an engaging sense of humour in the face of some dark material, and more than a whiff of the supernatural about proceedings.
This time round the novel is based in west London, where the curmudgeonly and elderly Cathal Flood is holed up in his formerly grand home, nowadays surrounded by the piles of stuff he’s compulsively accumulated over the years.
The story is told from the point of view of Maud Drennan, his underpaid care worker, as she struggles to get him to face up to the mess he’s surrounded by, and to knock his home into a liveable space. Cathal has managed to chase away all previous attempts at help, but his son Gabriel is determined to put him in a retirement home, so Maud might be the last chance he has to stay in his beloved house.
Kidd has an engaging sense of humour in the face of some dark material
That bare outline of the plot doesn’t do justice to Kidd’s engaging and beautifully judged story. Dealing with a childhood trauma of her own, Maud is accompanied by the voices of a host of patron saints, figures who seem to guide her at crucial moments of the story and help her as she tries to help Cathal. But as she delves further into his past and the house’s history, much darker stories begin to emerge, and revelations lead her to suspect Cathal might be much more than just a belligerent old goat.
All of this is delivered with a lightness of touch and a sensibility that brings all the characters to life fully and believably. There is a wonderful Celtic rhythm and lilt to Kidd’s prose, and the author’s sense of the ridiculous doesn’t blunt her ability to really examine the human condition with skill and dexterity. Excellent stuff.
Next up we have Blue Night by German author Simone Buchholz. This is the first of Buchholz’s thrillers to be translated into English, in some style by Rachel Ward, and it centres on the wonderful character of Chastity Riley, a state prosecutor based in Hamburg.
The book starts with Chastity being bumped to tedious witness protection duty, after a previous case has riled her superiors. But the anonymous man under police guard in hospital who she is assigned to investigate proves to be more interesting than she could have imagined. Taking in new synthetic drugs in Leipzig, the Albanian mafia and a whole host of vivid, offbeat characters, Blue Night is a real blast of adrenaline, as Chastity stumbles and careens through her investigations with irrepressible sass and gumption.
This is a scintillating romp around the German criminal underworld and back
There is more than a nod to the classic American noir canon here, and at times Blue Night brought to mind such legends as Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett – it’s there in the seedy bars and clubs, the snappy dialogue and the sense of life happening constantly in the shadows of a world we think we know. Stripped back in style and deadpan in voice, this is a scintillating romp around the German criminal underworld and back.