We Were Kings

Written by Douglas Graham Purdy

Review written by Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer has read crime fiction since her teenage years & enjoys reviewing within the many sub-genres that now exist; as a historian who lectures on real life historical mysteries she particularly appreciates historical cime fiction.

We Were Kings
Mulholland Books
RRP: £14.99
Released: June 30 2016
It’s Boston in the 1950s. It is really hot; not just the weather, but the atmosphere around the Irish community, as a series of deaths are mounting.  Can a conflagration be prevented?

In June, 1954, Boston PD detective Owen Lackey recognises that a body found in Boston harbour has been killed in the typical way that IRA informers are treated.   Owen has also failed to apprehend in time a boat, about which he had been tipped off is bringing guns and ammunition to the City.  He asks Cal O'Brien, his cousin and an ex-cop, and Dante Cooper, an addict just clinging on to sobriety, to go into the depths of the city's Irish underworld to investigate.  They have tragic back histories and are struggling in different ways to survive.  In a previous book, Serpents in the Cold, their history was described in stark detail.

The fetid conditions of Boston in the throes of a heatwave are an ever present background.  The reader can feel that the poverty of South Boston, that makes the heat almost unbearable.  The crowded dance halls, the Irish wakes, the Irish bars and the funeral parlours are frequent settings. 

The violence escalates as more men are shot.    Things are boiling up to some sort of potentially apocalyptic climax.    A priest says to Cal (who is asking about his fathers’ actions in the past) "Don't forget that to them, they're not in America. They're three thousand miles away but they're still home.  This isn't about America. Don't forget that." It's a grim world of violent men, perverted ideologies, corrupt police and appalling discomforts in which desperation reigns.

There are so many battles and so much violence that the reader becomes sickened; though that may well be the aim of the writers, but it makes for a miserable read.  The writing is of high quality, but the subject matter is irredeemably bleak.  A conclusion is reached, but not a warning, it may not be a happy one.
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