Magazine article The Spectator

Deeper into a Moral Quagmire

Magazine article The Spectator

Deeper into a Moral Quagmire

Article excerpt

Deeper into a moral quagmire Honor Clerk LOST SOULS by Michael Collins Weidenfeld & Nicolson, L12.99, pp. 280, ISBN 029764565X

It's a wonder there is anyone left in America over Hallowe'en. We have all seen enough films to know that there is not a basement in the country that is proof against the wandering psychopath, but even if fear was not motive enough, you would think that all the ghastly trick-or-treating pumpkin-lantern business would be enough to send the whole population off to the nearest airport.

For all that, it seems to go on providing writers and film-makers with endless copy, and in Lost Souls Michael Collins opens with the standard John Carpenter package. Nor is Hallowe'en the last movie cliche we are subjected to - there's the retreat to the cabin in the woods, the high-school shooting, the pointless torture of animals, the fundamentalist Christian zealot farmer on a lonely smallholding who beats up his son. Oh and the Amish too, but they're pretty incidental.

This is risky territory, but Michael Collins's story is just subtle and self-knowing enough to get away with it. His hero, Lawrence, is a smalltown cop, useless and miserable since his wife and son left him. On Hallowe'en night he finds the body of a three-year-old girl in a pile of leaves, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run accident. The prime suspect is the town's budding superstar quarter-back, Kyle Johnson, a teenage prodigy whose talent promises to put Hicksville, Illinois, on the map as an improbable mini-break destination for jaded executives.

This is a vision of civic prosperity which a conviction for manslaughter would inconveniently scotch, and sets the town's ambitious mayor - a curious mix of his opposite number in Jaws and Shakespeare's Claudius - on the path to a messy cover-up. Accidental death is followed by murder, suicide, more murder and more suicide as the consequences of lies and condoning lies plunge the principals - all 'lost souls' - ever deeper into a moral quagmire. …

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