Magazine article The Spectator

'The Drowned Detective', by Neil Jordan - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Drowned Detective', by Neil Jordan - Review

Article excerpt

The first and most important thing to say about The Drowned Detective is that it's a very good novel and (which is not always the same thing) a pleasure to read. After that, it gets more complicated.

The book defies tidy categorisation. Set in a nameless eastern European country, it opens in the literary territory of the crime thriller, with private investigators on the trail of a government minister on the way to visit his rubber-clad mistress. One of them, the narrator Jonathan, is English. He's furiously jealous of his employee Frank, a hunk who has had a fling with Sarah, Jonathan's archaeologist wife.

In another case, the parents of a missing girl have retained Jonathan to search for their daughter, Petra. Here the story lurches into different territory, for information on Petra's whereabouts comes from Gertrude, an elderly psychic with a marvellous line in malapropisms and an ailing Pomeranian named Phoebe; Gertrude, a self-confessed charlatan, believes that Petra is 'in a small room she cannot leave' and pinpoints the girl's approximate location by burning a hole in a map of the city with the heat radiating from her hand.

Added to this are the occasional trappings of a political thriller, for the city is convulsed by unrest. Summer heat warps the passions. Protesters in rainbow balaclavas and carrying boomboxes meet with violence from police in black balaclavas. Putin's tanks are waiting on the other side of the border.

A girl attempts to kill herself one night by jumping from a bridge guarded by blind stone dragons into the polluted river that divides the city In a sequence that has the dreamlike logic of an Edgar Allan Poe story, Jonathan dives in and rescues her. …

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