Monday, 25 July 2011


Ed Wright's period detective novels have been a critic's delight; each of the four has garnered at least one award, including two from the CWA. They're written with an ease that belies the conflicts between characters, and between them and the setting and times, in immediate post-war Los Angeles. Yet they've thus far failed to attract a wider audience--and it would be nice to think that From Blood, released last November, would be the standalone to attract a new audience. It would be nice because it's always good to see writers rewarded for taking risks.

And they are risks Wright, for the most part, handles with aplomb. The setting is modern, with its roots in the protest movements of the Sixties. His protagonist is a woman, one who often behaves more like a young girl, which is understandable as she first loses her family and begins a process of discovering the truth behind that family and her upbringing.

In a sense, it's a road novel, as Shannon Fairchild meets new people, friends, relatives, enemies, and those in between, and moves from place to place both pursuing and being pursued. Wright handles her character nicely; in fact the book is at its most convincing at the beginning, when she is most troubled, and doesn't have the lure of a quest to drive her on.

He's particularly good on the background of the Sixties: was it really so long ago that young people literally have no idea about things which obsessed the book's characters then? Those characters are draw convincingly, both the ones who stayed in the movement, underground, and those who didn't. You can sense the seriousess of the debate, and Wright makes sure you understand the sea-change in our society's attitudes and expectations.

And he's also good at the thriller aspects of the story. Shannon knows who she can trust; her instincts are called into question. And as she gets deeper and deeper into the protest underground she finds her own basic loyalties being twisted. It's a wonderful set-up, that Wright carries off perfectly almost to the end. So you have a story that's as fresh as the continuing headlines about radicals coming up from underground, with deep personal conflicts expressed with believability, and a solid chase thriller. The elements are all there.

It's in the resolution that the story becomes somewhat mechanical, with characters literally coming on-stage one after another as if they're being cued. There are two major turnarounds, which an astute reader will have guessed long before they're revealed to Shannon, and in the end the question is really one of extremism, and whether it's a vice--in the defense of liberty or of anything else. It's a enjoyable debate, and a thrilling ride Wright takes you on--and if the impact of the finish doesn't quite match the build-up, it's understandable. But it makes me doubt whether this is the book that boosts Wright into much-deserved wider success.

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