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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee – a review

McNamee offers up an idiosyncratic prose style which wrong-footed me for the first fifty or a hundred pages:

The next case was a young man arrested for grievous bodily harm. He pleaded guilty. A policeman told the court that he had struck his wife in the face with a glass while under the influence of drink. Desmond entered a plea for leniency. He spoke in low tones so that Gordon had to strain to hear what he was saying. He said that the young man had been motivated by jealous rage, that the young woman had indulged in relations with another man. He called it an occasion of adultery. He did not wish to condone the young man’s behaviour but he had now forsworn alcohol and was involved in part-time duties with a Christian organization.

Gordon could see the man’s wife sitting in front of him in the public gallery. She was small and blonde. There was a vivid scar across her cheekbone and nose and she lifted her hand often to touch it. Her husband didn’t look at her. Desmond said that she had allowed herself to be seduced by an older man, a manager at her place of work. He said that her husband, an assistant in a hardware shop, had seen them together in a bar on Amelia Street. The small blonde woman looked at the ground as Desmond went back over the details of her affair as though she knew herself on trial on grounds of betrayal and subversion of a plain man’s yearning heart.

When the judge passed down a sentence of one year’s penal servitude suspended for two years, the woman rose and quit the court without lifting her head, although Gordon saw her lips move as she passed him. He thought she was counting, as though disgrace was a thing to be tallied and made account of, or that she had henceforth been pledged to a recital of the lonely offices of the unfaithful wife.

The novel is based around actual events: On a wet and misty night in November 1952 the body of Patricia Curran was discovered in the grounds of her family home near Belfast. The 19-year-old had been stabbed 37 times.

The murder of the judge’s daughter led to a major miscarriage of justice that saw an innocent man “fitted up”, as the establishment closed ranks and covered up the killing. The victim of this conspiracy was Iain Hay Gordon, a 20-year-old Scotsman who was serving his National Service with the RAF in Northern Ireland.

In the year 2000 Mr Gordon finally managed to clear his name.

It emerged that he was coerced into signing a false confession, was wrongly ruled insane, and that there were serious faults in the police investigation. In fact, Gordon was completely innocent and was the subject of a genuine miscarriage of justice.

Eoin McNamee’s fictional representation of these events concentrates on human weakness, guilt, innocence and mischief, and he delivers a consummate and beautifully written tale.

McNamee is interested in corruption – people who have been corrupted; and he is interested in death; but his over-riding obsession seems to be the atmosphere in which both of these strands are played out. He is an artist who feels that his task is to find and deepen a mystery rather than explain it; he looks for and discovers a kind of truth, but that is not revealed to us in the form of an answer.

Finally, The Blue Tango is a masterclass in observational prose.

Eoin McNamee’s latest novel is ‘12:23: Paris. 31st August 1997′, a study of the death of the former Princess of Wales in a Parisian automobile crash.

2 Responses to “The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee – a review”

  1. Elisabeth says:

    The vignette you offer here is haunting. Eoin McNamee is a powerful writer and I welcome his efforts at getting to the bottom of corruption through his fiction. I will read more.

    jb says: Me, too, Elizabeth.

  2. Dick says:

    I find the mixture of blunt, truncated sentences and sudden excursion – ‘…as though disgrace was a thing to be tallied and made account of, or that she had henceforth been pledged to a recital of the lonely offices of the unfaithful wife’ – very appealing. I read very little in the way of crime-related fiction (yours being a happy exception!), but I might give this a go.

    jb says: I don’t think he’s really a crime-writer, Dick. But he’s a writer; no doubt about that.