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Hawthorn and Child, By Keith Ridgway. Granta, £15.99
Dubliner Keith Ridgway's previous work has garnered acclaim and prizes. The Long Falling, his debut, was a very Irish novel, steeped in the social politics of the country. The central tale, of a woman's murder of her violent husband, occurred amid the real-life case in 1992 of a rape victim – a minor – whom the Irish courts sought to prevent aborting her rapist's foetus.
Hawthorn and Child is, in contrast, based in London. The title refers to two police partners who feature in each of the eight stories. Hawthorn is white, gay, dozy; he scribbles irrelevant minutiae compulsively in his notebook. Child is sharper, younger, black. In the opening story, "1934", they try to solve the case of a banker shot with no apparent motive. In order to tackle this case, they are pulled off the surveillance of a suspected big-shot in serious crime, Mr Mishazzo.
One of Ridgway's key aims is to reflect the reality about events in life – that, unlike stories in books, they very seldom have a defined beginning, middle and end. To illustrate this, many of the stories and protagonists here have no clear resolution and are left hanging (sometimes literally). The drawback to a format such as Ridgway's is that his characters are so compelling and the situations in which he thrusts them so gripping that there's an inevitable sense of frustration – no, incompletion – when threads are left untied, especially when there seem to be deliberate links: is it a coincidence that a woman is called Misha when the baddie is Mishazzo?
But it's worth reading Hawthorn and Child for the thrills alone. A man stands behind a remote rural building, eavesdropping on the conversation of two people who may be murderers. He is seized by an urge to move his bowels. In another tale, a pickpocket with a heart (his respect for a victim's personal notebook is perhaps a sentimental touch) drives thugs around. His naivety about their violence – he thinks they put on the talk about it to impress him – is implausible, but his situation is mesmerising. And the black humour throughout is glorious.
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