Black, Ingrid - 'The Dark Eye'
THE DARK EYE is the second in a series featuring hard-boiled, retired ex-FBI agent "Saxon", living in Dublin and making a living as a sort of private eye. Saxon isn't much liked by the local police, partly because she's nosy but partly because she is the partner of their boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Grace Fitzgerald, which is a bit of a challenge for the traditional male police culture.
The book starts well, when Saxon receives a phone call from Felix Berg, a photographer, who is convinced he is going to be the next victim of "the Marxman", who kills his (or her) apparently unconnected victims by a single bullet and leaves them in doorways. Saxon agrees to meet Berg at a remote lighthouse late at night so she can learn more about his fears, but by the time she gets there, Berg is dead. Was he murdered or, as the police think, did he commit suicide?
The start of the investigation is compelling, as Saxon, an outsider by choice in every personal and professional group going, tracks down the dead man's sister Alice - an interesting portrait - and discovers more about Felix's work and life. The web around Felix is completed by a creepy gallery owner and a fellow-photographer who has dropped out and moved away - but why?
As with THE DEAD, the first in the series, Saxon is a frustrating character, as we never learn very much about her and why she is so bitter and extreme. Her relationship with Grace Fitzgerald, while comfortable, is wooden and passionless. Too much of the text is portentous, causing a good if convoluted plot to get bogged down to the point where I found it difficult to care very much about how it all turned out - which is a pity, as when it comes to it, the denouement is rather good, as Saxon's relentless digging into the history of all the cast of characters eventually pays dividends. In particular, I felt the two psychotherapists slowed up the plot too much with their vague analyses and situations, although I appreciated the role of Saxon's bookseller friend, which enables readers to share a beautifully written description of the work Felix had created while he was alive. If the book had been at least 50 pages shorter, and focused more on the characters and less on their attitudes, it would have been compelling. But in the event, I found it good rather than stand-out.
Maxine Clarke, England