Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A Wee Review - The Dust of Death by Paul Charles

With The Dust of Death, Paul Charles introduces a new detective onto the Irish crime scene. Charles originally made his mark in crime fiction charting the career of Inspector Christy Kennedy, an Irish cop on the streets of Camden Town; where Charles himself lives and works in the music industry. For the first of a new series, Charles takes us to rural Donegal. And it’s not just a new setting he’s experimenting with. There’s something very interesting about Inspector Starrett. Something a little supernatural.

Charles wastes little time with lackadaisical introduction to his new character. He simply throws the man in at the deep end and allows the reader to watch him react. The book opens with Starrett arriving onto the scene of a brutal crucifixion. In a church. The victim is quickly identified as a local; master carpenter, James Moore. An altogether inoffensive and self-contained family man. And so the key to solving the case lies in determining why anybody would want this quiet, unassuming man dead, and in such a brutal way, more so than who carried out the act.

Paul Charles is incredibly adept at painting a large cast of three dimensional characters. We see all kinds in this novel, from the morally conservative to the ethically questionable, each one painted to exquisite detail. And they interconnect and interrelate in the manner expected in a rural setting. As the mystery unwinds, each player contributes to the denouement. I find this quite remarkable, as in a recent CSNI interview, Paul Charles admitted that he doesn’t know who has committed the crime while he pens the first draft of his mysteries. He prefers to travel the same journey as the protagonist and solve the case alongside him. I suppose it’s only fair when you think about it, though.

Naturally, the most interesting member of the cast is Inspector Starrett, the humble protagonist of The Dust of Death. An affable and intelligent chap, he is the son of a woman said to possess the gift of healing. And he has a gift of his own. It’s not something he fully understands, or even believes in; but he has a knack for identifying when somebody is lying to him. A handy skill for a police inspector to possess. He has also escaped some brushes with disaster in the past, following an instinct to avoid certain places and situations. But like I say, this gift seems to be in a raw, unnourished form. There’s potential there, though, and I look forward to seeing how this facet of his character may develop as the series progresses.

So, The Dust of Death has set up an intriguing premise in this new series, and I’m glad to be jumping aboard on the ground floor. A second Inspector Starrett mystery will be published through Brandon Books some time next year. I believe the title will be Family Life. But if you’re jonseing for another Charles fix a little sooner than that, the ninth Inspector Kennedy novel was released last month. Go on and treat yourself to The Beautiful Sound of Silence, why don’t you? I have.

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