Friday, August 22, 2008

Crime by Irvine Welsh

First line: She’d wanted to tell Momma that this one was no good.

Burnt out Edinburgh cop Ray Lennox is on holiday in Miami with his fiancée, Trudi. He’s on stress leave after his latest case, the abduction, sexual abuse and murder of seven year old Britney Hamil. He is physically and emotionally wrung out and has begun to slip back into his alcohol and cocaine addictions. Trudi is completely focussed on planning their wedding, only seeming to take her attention from Perfect Bride magazine long enough to chide Ray for his lack of interest, and for his drinking.

After an argument with Trudi, Ray goes on the town seeking the alcohol and drugs he craves. In a bar he meets two women, Robyn and Starry, and goes with them to Robyn’s place, where the cocaine flows freely. When two men arrive to join the party, things start to get ugly. After the ensuing altercation, Ray finds himself alone in the apartment with Robyn’s ten year old daughter, Tianna. Next morning, an obviously frightened Robyn phones and asks him to take Tianna to a friend where she will be safe. So Ray and Tianna embark on a road trip across Florida to the Gulf of Mexico.

Ray and Tianna's story is interspersed with chapters which follow the course of the investigation into Britney's death. Ray is still haunted by the case and he feels responsible for not being able to save Britney. As the story unfolds we begin to realise that there is something personal behind Ray’s crusade against the paedophiles.

CRIME’s main themes are paedophilia and the sexualisation of children. Some of the most disturbing scenes are when we see the world through Tianna's eyes. Old beyond her years, with experiences no ten year old should ever have had, her shifts from child to ‘woman’, with accompanying seductive behaviour is confronting and quite shocking. It makes Ray even more aware that, by being with Tianna, he has put himself in danger of being cast in the role of the people he despises.

Ray is drawn to dark side of policing, but it gets to him, and he uses cocaine to help him forget, “to make him not think about dead children.” The trip to save Tianna becomes a personal journey for Ray. He is an extremely complex character, not particularly likeable at first, but as we learn more about him we begin to understand what drives him, and to see just how precarious his mental state is.

One light spot in this rather dark tale is the incongruous image of Perfect Bride magazine which Ray carries with him throughout, determined to return it to Trudi. This beacon of hope and happiness makes a cameo appearance in some of the most sordid scenes, and the contrast is always jarring.

CRIME is not your usual crime story, but then Welsh is not your usual crime writer. It’s an exceptional, if somewhat disturbing and confronting tale, part police procedural, part lone crusader; but mostly it’s Ray’s story, superbly told by a master storyteller.

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