BROKEN ANGELS by Graham Masterton
Graham Masterton (www.grahammasterton.co.uk)
Head of Zeus (headofzeus.com)
The body of a priest is found in a river just outside Cork. He has been tortured, castrated and bound with harp wire before dying. Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire of the Cork Guardai picks up the case and discovers that the dead priest is one of many accused of abuse in the 1990s. When a second priest turns up, this one also tortured and castrated, Katie and her superiors fear a series of revenge killings against the clergy. It’s strange, then, that one of Cork’s most senior Roman Catholics is trying to keep the case off the front pages, even going so far as to actively misdirect Katie’s investigation. When a third priest goes missing, a new pattern begins to emerge, and secrets that the Church has guarded for decades are in danger of being revealed.
Picking up eighteen months after the events of White Bones, Masterton re-introduces us to Cork’s highest-ranking female Garda, Katie Maguire. Much has changed in the intervening time – Katie is happy, which makes a nice change from the stressful circumstances during which we were introduced to her – and yet much is still the same: Katie is still battling the same sexist attitudes at work, and the ever-present spectre of her dead son. In the tradition of the best noir, we know from the start that Katie’s happiness can’t last long – the stresses and tensions are what make her such an interesting character – and it isn’t long before the author begins to torment her once more.
At work, Katie is surrounded by a bunch of men who are as interesting as they are stereotypical. Backwards Irish country policemen, each and every one, they come across as often bumbling and slow, unable, at times, to follow Katie’s logic when she figures something out. They are almost comedic, bringing a surprising light-heartedness to the book that plays perfectly against the dark backdrop of the heinous crimes they are investigating. Don’t let the jovial tone of the inter-officer interactions fool you; this is a dark and often disturbing mystery, that spends considerable time in small rooms with chained-up priests and medieval instruments of torture that will have every male reader crossing his legs at one point or another. When violence strikes, it is sudden and graphic, all the more striking when set against the laid-back – and often daft – Irish personalities of both perpetrators and police, characters who might have stepped fully formed from the pages of a Roddy Doyle novel.
Masterton seems to touch on something of a taboo subject in the wilds of Catholic Ireland – the alleged (and often proven) sexual abuse of young boys and girls at the hands of the priesthood. As the story progresses, it quickly becomes clear that what is going on here is much more sinister, and much more disturbing. Through the actions of some, Masterton shines an unflattering light on the Church and, while the central tenet is purely fiction, it is entirely plausible and all the more frightening for its plausibility. Once again, Masterton shows a deep understanding of that part of the world, not only in terms of the language the people speak, or the way they live their lives, but also in terms of the thrall in which many people are held by the promise of eternal life.
While the deus ex machina that brings the novel’s climactic scene to an abrupt end seems rather out of place, it does give Masterton the perfect excuse for the ultimate punchline, a line spoken by one of Katie’s colleagues that more or less sums up the point the author has been making throughout:
Inspector Fennessy helped Katie back on to her feet. ‘Jesus,’ he said. ‘Maybe they did it. Maybe God did pay them a visit, after all.’
In all, it’s a cleverly-plotted mystery that manages to show the reader both sides – both the police and the murderers – without giving anything away until absolutely necessary. Masterton shows that he has still got a touch of what made him such a successful horror author, in the wonderfully-written but never overwrought scenes of torture and violence (you’ll be dreaming of castratori for weeks to come, at the very least), but also that he understands the fundamentals of human drama, creating a cast of characters that resonate with the reader, and make us want to come back for more. An unusual mix of “cosy” and “noir”, Broken Angels takes the foundations laid in White Bones and builds on them, cementing the Katie Maguire books as essentials for anyone looking for engaging, funny and frightening crime fiction. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.