Kitchin, Rob - 'Stumped'
STUMPED is the fourth crime novel from Rob Kitchin, who blogs at The View from the Blue House, and also finds time for a day-job as a geographer. Last year's STIFFED was a screwball noir set in small-town USA, but with STUMPED he has moved closer to home with a slightly blacker comedy set in Dublin, Manchester and the West of Ireland.
Grant Smith is a British academic who has recently taken a job teaching at Maynooth University. Arriving home after a night in the pub, Grant finds his housemate Sinead McMullen's severed finger on his mantelpiece, together with a message for her brother Pat. Roughly speaking: Return the package or Sinead gets it. There's one problem (well, not only one problem, but one main problem). Grant has no idea where to find Pat.
His only lead is that Pat is gay, so Grant enlists the help of his friend/potential girlfriend Mary Carmichael and her brother-in-law Declan. Declan's knowledge of Dublin's gay scene is their only hope of finding any trace of Pat and so he shepherds the uncomfortable Grant through various bars and some colourful saunas looking for clues. Meanwhile,the clock is ticking and Sinead's severed fingers are mounting up in Mary's freezer. The gangster with the chopper and Sinead, Doherty, is deadly serious and proves it by beating the gang up as an additional incentive to find his mysterious package.Time for Declan to round up some much-needed muscle in the form of a team of very butch farmers. In dresses.
In another part of Dublin, the body of Pat's ex-boyfriend Steven is pulled out of the water, bringing in rockabilly-throwback Inspector McGerritty Black and the Gardaí. Steven was a political advisor to the distinctly dodgy politician Sean O'Hagan, which makes this a particularly sensitive case for the particularly insensitive Inspector Black.
By now everything is in place for a series of ramshackle chases and reversals of fortune as the hapless Grant and his friends try to stay one step ahead of the gangsters, the police and, erm, the builders in a story of kidnapping, torture, blackmail and murder. And it's not necessarily the bad guys doing all of those things.
Like STIFFED, this is a tale of unlikely friendships growing stronger in the face of adversity. Grant is an ordinary, rather pudgy (according to Mary's kids) man who discovers unexpected ruthlessness under pressure. Mary doesn't let her wheelchair stop her protecting her friends and family. Declan's campness completely fails to obscure his courage and loyalty. The comedy comes from character and situation rather than one-liners, and there is real warmth underneath the set-pieces, which of course makes them more effective.
Much recommended if you enjoy Bateman or, further afield, Carl Hiaasen.
Rich Westwood, England