Book review: For Any Other Truth, by Denzil Meyrick

It may be escapist hokum, but Denzil Meyrick’s new thriller is top quality escapist hokum, writes Allan Massie

Denzil Meyrick PIC: Kirsty Anderson
Denzil Meyrick PIC: Kirsty Anderson

This is the ninth in Denzil Meyrick’s series of DCI Daley crime novels set, mostly, on the Mull of Kintyre, and, as is often the way of such sequences, they have got longer, and the plots more complicated. As is also sometimes the case, it seems, especially in the early chapters or even for the first half of the book, that the author has become more interested in, or concerned with, the private lives of his policemen and other local characters than in his plot. One has seen this happen with other crime writers, Ruth Rendell, Susan Hill and John Harvey, all the way back to Dorothy L Sayers indeed. It isn’t surprising. Authors become at least as interested in their familiar characters as in the plots they devise for them.

At the same, time crime novels become longer and fatter. Plots are more intricate, crimes and conspiracies more sensational and far-fetched. The cast of characters is bigger, though few apart from those with whom readers are already familiar, are granted much convincing individuality. There are one or two exceptions here, but the villains tend to be flat characters. Interest is in what they do rather than in what they are or may be.

Meyrick’s new novel begins with a mysterious plane crash. There is no pilot and the two identically dressed passengers were dead before the light aircraft hit the ground. There is nothing, it seems, to identify them. However, the spooks, in the form of MI5, are soon involved, and an experienced tabloid journalist has his eyes on a scoop. Then Hamish, the old fisherman who is a popular fixture in the bar of the County Hotel, disappears. Superintendent Carrie Symington is being blackmailed, while Daley’s colleague and closest friend, Brian Scott, is having trouble with his twenty-something son Will, who is acting strangely.

For Any Other Truth, by Denzil Meyrick

The complicated yet often fast-moving plot involves eco-warriors planning an act of terrorism, their relationship with unreconstructed Provisional IRA men, kidnappings, mysterious comings-and-goings between Kintyre and County Antrim in Northern Ireland, astonishing escapes and dangerous journeys, shootings and fistfights. There is no shortage of action.

Perhaps there is too much action, for there are few periods when we are in suspense waiting for things to happen. Getting this balance between expectation and incident is never easy. It is not always clear what is happening, but no doubt the reader is supposed to be puzzled. All novels of this kind risk toppling into absurdity when the narrative becomes incredible. Here, the author teeters on that verge, but he writes with such brio and conviction that I would guess most readers will be content, even if puzzled and unsure of just what is afoot.

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The novel is a good example of Tartan Noir and has the strengths and weaknesses common to this brand of fiction. The strengths are in the writer’s sense of place and ability to tell a story that grips, no matter how improbable it would be if stripped to its bare bones. The characters who feature in earlier novels in the sequence acquire a familiarity which enables the extravagant narrative to remain in some sense anchored in recognizable reality.

But Tartan Noir novels characteristically mostly have only frail, and often fraying, connections to reality. No matter how grisly a death scene may be, the reader is well aware that what seems to be blood is only ketchup. The more extravagant the plot, the more violent individual scenes may be, the looser the connection is to real-life criminality. When the narrative is strong enough to hold one’s interest and attention, as it is with Meyrick’s sequence of novels, we are being presented with entertainment that bears as little relation to individual or social experience as novels of the Golden Age of detective fiction did. In short, we are offered escapist hokum, but, when it is good quality escapist hokum, as is the case here, you get a novel which you are likely to read with deepening pleasure.

For Any Other Truth, by Denzil Meyrick, Polygon, 424pp, £8.99

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