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Quinn, Anthony - 'Border Angels'
Hardback: 352 pages (Jan. 2015) Publisher: Head of Zeus ISBN: 1784082600

"We used to be an idealistic bunch of terrorists," replied Ashe. "But look at us now. Property deals, expense accounts, mistresses, and chauffeur-driven cars. How did we become so vulgar?"

Armagh, Northern Ireland.
She knows about border country, she dreams about her native borderland with its wolves and buried landmines, but is brought back to the present: the decrepit farmhouse, the man hitching up his trousers, the dripping rain.

Businessman Jack Fowler drives through the narrow lanes to the rural brothel. Drunk, regretful, all he wants is to talk to someone and from the women at the brothel, he picks Lena. Back again a week later, this time there is sex. Lena seems battered, in need of help. And Jack wants to help her. He promises to return in three days with a plan and gives her the phone number of an old friend. The possibility of escape fires Lena. Her anger focuses on Mikolajek, the trafficker who tricked her into travelling here from Croatia.
On the evening of Jack's planned return, one of the other girls agrees to help Lena who gives the girl a rag doll containing the contact number and a list of Mikolajek's trafficked women. However it is Sergei, not Jack, who arrives and orders Lena into his car. Driving fast, Sergei's car is blocked by a jack-knifed lorry and a car in a ditch - Jack's car. He reverses up the icy lane but loses control and crashes into a tree. Lena comes to amongst shattered glass and the reek of fuel. Crawling out and looking back, she sees a groggy Sergei lean out of the car and light a cigarette. In that moment the car becomes a fireball. Lena takes off through the snow, bare feet skinned by the cold, running through the forest until she reaches the black borderland river.
In his father's rural cottage, Inspector Celcius Daly takes a colleague's phone call. There has been a violent death - a pimp in a burned-out car at a borderland brothel. Daly heads to the scene where he spots a woman's footprints in the snow surrounding the burnt car and corpse. The prints lead into the trees, stopping at the river. None on the opposite bank, nor any in the surrounding undergrowth. The corpse's identity is confirmed but the fire service suggests a petrol bomb was involved. The police find a group of women hiding in a lorry container in the farmyard, all from Croatia, Albania and Serbia, and they identify the escaped woman as Lena Novak. She said she would find her "knight in shining armour" and return to help them.

When Daly is called out to a luxury mansion carved out of the moorland, it is for another death, that of Jack Fowler. He had once served time for IRA arms smuggling but in recent years had become a property developer and chairman of a local community organisation, the Gortin Regeneration Partnership. That morning he admitted to his wife that he was facing bankruptcy and embezzlement charges. She drove their children to school and returned, full of forgiveness and determination to sort things out, only to find her husband's drowned body floating in the family swimming pool. She knows that he was having an affair with the Croatian woman whose photo lies at the poolside and a police search of the house reveals more: an envelope containing Fowler's passport and two tickets for Malaga, one for him and one for a Lena Novak. Daly has found Lena's "knight in shining armour"...

I rated Northern Irish writer and journalist Anthony J Quinn's first crime novel DISAPPEARED amongst my top 2014 reads, so I read BORDER ANGELS, his second Inspector Celcius Daly novel, somewhat nervously. But Quinn's fresh voice and perspective on contemporary Northern Irish crime writing is still present. Atmospheric prose that is deeply evocative of a particular landscape spells out Quinn's deep attachment to the countryside of his childhood. He has also spoken of childhood memories of his grandfather recounting Irish folk stories, full of ghosts, shape-shifters, bewitched cattle, curses and cures. Perhaps this explains the eerie edge to his imagery which sits comfortably in this landscape - although for me there are times when it obscures the storyline, but I am a hard-boiled girl at heart. This is indeed a twenty-first century crime story and an ingenious one. A trafficked woman running from her traffickers, the police and a mysterious hit man; twists, turns, murder and corruption in a contemporary Northern Ireland suffering an economic down-slide with unfinished housing schemes and ghost-developments memorialising the busted boom. Elsewhere Quinn has asked, "how do you accommodate former terrorists, political activists, freedom-fighters and sectarian troublemakers into a settled and easy civilian life?" This is a question that other Northern Irish crime writers (Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway) have laid out. And in his Celcius Daly series Quinn embeds the same question within a wintry landscape of lanes, bog-land, ruined farms and thorny hedgerows. A new, important voice within Northern Irish crime writing.

Lynn Harvey, England
April 2015

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 25/04/2015 17:03