Suspense irresistible in Hughes thriller
By BRUCE DeSILVA
To those for whom the word Ireland evokes rocky shorelines, misty moors, fairy-tale castles and welcoming country pubs, the crime novels of Declan Hughes can be a jolt. His is an Ireland of mean Dublin streets peopled by organized criminal gangs, thuggish police and the occasional homicidal maniac.
In "City of Lost Girls," his fifth novel featuring private detective Ed Loy, young girls working as bit players in a Hollywood movie being filmed in Dublin are disappearing. And it's Ed's job to find out why.
Being Irish, Hughes is inevitably compared to his countryman, Ken Bruen, who works this same territory. But stylistically, the two are nothing alike. Bruen is one of the tightest writers in captivity. Hughes' prose is lush, rich with detail, peppered with historical and literary references, and prone to intriguing digressions.
Hughes is not only a novelist but also a veteran playwright and screenwriter — and reading his novels is not unlike watching an epic movie unfold on the big screen. By building the plot of his latest book around the movie business, he's writing about a world he has inhabited for decades.
As the story opens, Ed is hired to investigate the source of threatening letters that have been sent to Jack Donovan, a larger-than-life movie director who's trying to make a comeback from his latest commercial flop.
The suspected authors of the letters include an ex-wife Jack abandoned for no good reason and a sister with whom he may have fathered a child.
Ed takes the case reluctantly. Years ago, he had been Jack's fixer, getting him out of various jams. But he quit the job after becoming disgusted with the way Jack treats women.
As Ed works the case, two young female extras who look very much alike disappear, reminding Ed of an earlier case in California when three girls vanished from another of Jack's pictures. Ed's investigation leads him back to L.A., where the old case may hold the key to the new one.
Meanwhile, Ed has troubles of his own. He's still struggling with the death of his child, still in love with an ex-wife who has remarried, and still in danger from the brutish Halligan clan.
The suspense is irresistible. The writing is superb, at times bordering on poetry. And the characters are superbly drawn — so real that you could almost shoot them yourself.