Hack by Kieran Crowley
If you love Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane novels, you’re going to love this one too. Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning, which I read pre-blog,hooked me from the off – literally from it’s expletive first words! Hack begins in a dead-pan manner, but it is so tongue in cheek I was giggling by the end of the first paragraph. As in Brookmyre’s debut, Hack features a journalist who gets sucked into a murder investigation.
F.X. Shepherd is no investigative journo though, it’s his third day at the New York Mail where he is the new pet reporter – writing a column called ‘Dog’s Breakfast’. It just so happens that the paper’s top crime reporter is on hols, and is also called Frank Shepherd (no X). However, it’s the new Australian City Desk editor’s first day on the job, so the wrong Frank gets the call to cover a murder:
“What’s the story? What kind of animal is involved?”
“Damn. You’re bloody good. How did you know that?”
“The pooch. Photo just heard over the cop radio a sec ago that some dog is guarding the body. Cops may have to shoot it. Top of the list right now, mate,” Bantock continued without a breath. “You know, ‘loyal pooch protecting slain master?’ Blah blah. Got a runner from the shack on the way with Photo but I need you on this right away. I want an exclusive break on this from you or I’ll know why not,” he concluded in a friendly, theatening tone.
He arrives at the scene on the Upper East Side and, identifying himself as an animal expert, “I’m Shepherd. I’m here about the dog.”, he is ushered up to the apartment by police eager to get the dog dealt with. There, he finds the naked body of a celebrity food critic’s husband with his throat slashed, a big chunk cut out of his bottom, and the corpse is garnished in parsley, garlic and Parmesan cheese. A husky dog, called Skippy, guards the body, and Frank is able to calm him down and take him away from the scene, instantly gaining Inspector Izzy Negron’s respect.
Aubrey Forsythe, the food critic, is known for his hatchet jobs, having put many restaurants out of business. When it turns out that his last meal was sauteed butt cheek steak (he vomits it up when he sees the scene), he is immediately arrested – but Frank who is still there and sees it all, isn’t convinced, thinking that however hated Aubrey is, he didn’t commit the murder. Frank gets the scoop, ahead of rival reporter Ginny McElhone from the Daily Press whose job is on the line after that – and she will do anything to recover the kudos. They meet in court at Aubrey’s arraignment at which celebrity lawyer, Roland Arbusto acts for him.
The clerk read out the charge of First Degree Murder and Unlawfully Dealing with Human Remains.
“How do you plead?”
“Totally, completely, without a shadow of a doubt not guilty,” Arbusto bellowed.
I guffawed. Simon Cowell has a lot to answer for!
The jokes come thick and fast. Aubrey is let out of jail to attend his husband’s funeral at the cathedral.
Aubrey cried what seemed to be genuine tears, and the TV crews went live. The priest proceeded with the solemn service, during which they drank blood and ate flesh, at least symbolically. Food for thought.
Skippy the dog had been put into a vet’s holding centre, and Frank persuades the police that it would be better for the dog to go home with him. This is where he meets vet Jane, and they hit it off right away, but their fledgling relationship is immediately put under stress when things always happen to Frank when they’re out for dinner.
Underneath all the comedy is a cracking contemporary noir novel, grisly and violent with a brilliantly twisting plot that keeps you guessing all the way through. It’s also a sparkling satire on tabloid journalism of the Australian-owned kind. Frank has to wear out a lot of shoe-leather as he gets more and more involved due to his owner’s demands, and his own new-found desire to solve the crime. Izzy, the cop, was sympathetically portrayed, a good officer who accepts Frank’s different eye-view of the case as vital to its resolution. Frank soon stops being a fish out of water, and begins to relish his new-found confidence as an investigative reporter, and who couldn’t love Skippy!
Crowley writes from experience, no research needed; as a crime reporter and investigative journalist for the New York Post he covered hundreds of trials and murders, in some of which he uncovered missed evidence. He covered the second Zodiac Killer ‘Son of Sam’ cases – serial killers are his speciality and he has written several true crime books on them.
I enjoyed this book so much, it’s going straight into my end of the year Best of… If you like crime with a sense of humour, you’ll enjoy Hack, and the good news is there will be a second Shepherd book – Shoot – but we’ll have to wait until next autumn! (10/10)
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Source: Publisher – Thank you.
Hack by Kieran Crowley (Titan Books, October 2015) paperback original, 320 pages.