Arcadia, £11.99 Order for £10.89 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Orpheus Trail, By Maureen Duffy
Underworld pickle of red herrings
Wednesday 14 October 2009
One of the best and most chilling ghost stories by MR James is entitled "Lost Hearts". It tells how an aged scholar and collector of Roman antiquities murders and consumes the hearts of children to enable him to achieve immortality. Maureen Duffy's new novel sometimes reads like an updated version, replete not only with pagan ritual, but internet pornography, blackmail and child trafficking.
Placed on the bleak Essex coast, the action begins with the discovery of the tomb of a Saxon prince. The grave goods are a fabulous haul; puzzling in the case of a medallion bearing symbols of Mithras, Ormuz, Orpheus and Christ, and a Greek inscription on beaten gold sheet, giving instructions on how the prince might arrive at the Islands of the Blest rather than Hades. Alex Kish, curator of a local museum, is called in to advise. He arranges an exhibition, but the night before it opens, the medallion and the inscription are stolen. Soon after the body of a boy is found with a piece of the gold sheet.
Kish is questioned by Detective Chief Inspector Hildreth. The two strike up an unlikely alliance. Do real-life detectives confide in outsiders quite so much, and phone to ask opinions or report an investigation's progress? The murders go on; always of boys, and set up as macabre symbolic tableaux, and the race is on to prevent the last, Mithraic death.
Kish, the narrator, is a fortysomething widower living alone with his cat, Caesar. His life in Southend, his affair with fellow-curator Hilary Caistor and friendship with Jack Linden, an archaeologist who comes to a sticky end, are all finely realised. Where the book comes unstuck is in not deciding whether it is a novel of character and atmosphere, or a logical detective story. The two genres rarely come off together and this is no exception. There are too many red herrings and the mysterious organisers of child trafficking, blackmail and murder never show themselves: a regrettable lack of threat in a thriller.
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Universities aren't working us hard enough, say undergraduates
- 2 Lego letter from the 1970s still offers a powerful message to parents 40 years later
- 3 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Strictly Come Dancing results: Steve Backshall and Ola Jordan sent home
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Beyonce '7/11' music video: Star bounces on bed and films Blue Ivy in lo-fi homage to viral video
Why are the words 'mongol', 'mongoloid' and 'mongy' still bandied about as insults?
Tom DeLonge compares streaming music to killing elephants
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict