Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: TABOO by Casey Hill

TABOO by Casey Hill (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A new voice on the Irish crime writing scene, but not a new writer; Casey Hill is a pseudonym for husband-and-wife writing team Melissa and Kevin Hill (Melissa is a bestselling 'contemporary women's lives' novelist). 

Turning to the dark side with their crime debut, the Hills introduce forensic investigator Reilly Steel, an American who’s moved to Dublin for several reasons: to slow down, drag the Irish crime lab into modernity, and keep an eye on her Irish-born father following a family tragedy.

Then a series of brutal deaths intercede; a seeming suicide pact becomes something much worse as more bodies pile up, and it becomes clear a terrible serial killer is on the loose, seeking to highlight the so-called ‘taboos’ that some people may truly live, hidden behind a fa├žade of society’s norms.

With any new-to-me writer, I hope to uncover a gem, a voice worth following over many books. In recent years I've struck gold with several debuts from new crime scribes, including Vanda Symon to Stuart MacBride to John Burdett. In each case it was immediately apparent I was in the hands of a talented storyteller with a unique voice who'd created a rich 'world' of characters and setting. There's an electricity beneath the prose, something unseen that elevates standard formulas and structures. Like a musician who has influences, but still brings something fresh and authentically 'them' to their songs and performance.

Unfortunately, TABOO disappoints on that front. Many of the pieces that make up the recipe (or sheet music, to continue the analogy) for a great crime novel are there - an interesting heroine with promise, potentially intriguing characters, setting, and crime - but it never really gels for me in terms of those intangibles. It reads a little write-by-numbers, like any originality is outweighed by the influences, so it comes across as a so-so version, an artist mimicking others rather than having yet found their own strong voice. I don't mean to be too harsh, as it's still an okay read - I'm just trying to put my finger on what was lacking.

I guess in the end, for me, TABOO doesn’t engage enough to stand out amongst the good and great crime writing that is widely available. Not helped by a weak ending. But Reilly Steel shows enough promise to hope for better next time from Casey Hill.

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