Declan Hughes is an Irish playwright turned novelist. His latest book, the Color of Blood, is the second novel to feature private eye Ed Loy. Loy debuted in Hughes’s first novel, The Wrong Kind of Blood when he returned to Dublin, Ireland to bury his mother. At that point, Loy had lived in Los Angeles for twenty years. That bit of business led to an investigation that was covered in the first novel. Loy is still rediscovering his roots in the town where he grew up.
In the new novel, Loy is hired by Doctor Shane Howard, a well-to-do dentist that runs a very successful practice. From the onset, Loy – and the reader – are treated to mysterious happenings. Although he’s been retained by Doctor Howard, Loy is questioned and treated suspiciously by the family lawyer.
When he does meet with Doctor Howard, Loy is hired to find the dentist’s nineteen year old daughter, Emily. Someone is blackmailing Howard. He’s been sent an envelope containing pictures of Emily engaged in various sex acts. Doctor Howard is convinced she was held against her will and forced to participate in the acts of degradation.
On the other hand, the dentist appears way too calm to Loy. Howard hires the private detective almost too casually, and seems to brush the whole thing off as a nuisance.
The whole setup of this novel reminded me immediately of Raymond Chandler’s first novel about his signature private investigator, Philip Marlowe. Like Loy, Marlowe was brought into a highly dysfunctional family filled with sexual secrets and substance abuse problems.
In no time at all, Loy finds himself lied to and treated like hired help. But, like Marlowe, he’s deeply drawn into the investigation and the layers of lies that are woven around the Howard family.
Hughes’s writing also reminded me a lot of another great private eye writer. Ross MacDonald also covered the crime beat with his perennial shamus, Lew Archer. Although Ross McDonald’s novels started off as imitations of Chandler and Hammett, the writing deepened and tended to reflect more of the sociological problems going on in the world at that time. At least the problems as they were presented in Southern California.
Hughes seems bent on doing the same thing for Dublin that Ross MacDonald did for the Los Angeles area. The city comes alive through Loy’s eyes. We get a chance to learn the history and see the sights that Loy does. Not only that, but we get two sets of values: the way things are now in Dublin, and the way they were twenty years ago when Loy last lived there.
The pacing in the novel is quite good. Hughes is a master storyteller and dense plotter. Although Loy finds Emily quickly in the beginning, that only leads to bigger problems and higher stakes. Despite the family’s tendency to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that money can make any problem go away, Loy knows he has to take a hand and continue his investigation in order to save those that he can.
Ed Loy’s history is painted across the pages of the book. His friend Tommy carries a lot of weight in the story, and has direct bearing on how Loy handles things. Despite the fact that Tommy is helping him, Ed can’t totally trust his friend either because Tommy has his own agenda and is involved in a lot of what is going on.
Although Hughes prefers not to be a violent person, he doesn’t have a problem going there once there’s no other recourse. He’s a physical man as well as a cerebral and emotional one. He’s not exactly Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, but both men travel the same dark alleys and know how to take care of themselves.
On the surface, the plot seems simple enough. But Hughes twists and turns his characters and events so much that even a close reader has to stay on his toes in order to keep that. And the writing is packed with detail, emotion, and history. This is a gifted storyteller at work.
The Color of Blood is the first book I’ve read by Declan Hughes. Thankfully I caught him early in his career. When I read his first book, I’ll be caught up with him – and anxiously awaiting his next Ed Loy novel.