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The Price of Blood
The Price of Blood
by Michael A. Black

Brilliant Irish suspense: a priest's request, horse racing and dark, multi-layered secrets.
Irish playwright Declan Hughes's third private detective Ed Loy novel, The Price of Blood peers into the gritty sides of Dublin and families as Loy investigates the case of a missing jockey and a case of vandalism. In a suspense thriller with echoes of Greek tragedy set in modern life, Declan Hughes creates an innovative look into the darker sides of his characters and the underside of Irish horse racing. The Price of Blood is a suspense read full of local color from an Irish author who looks beyond the surface into societal changes and customs as well as into the shocking secrets hidden from plain view, secrets that when spoken can often lead to tragic consequences.

Father Vincent Tyrrell asks PI Ed Loy to look into a name, Patrick Hutton. The Catholic priest and horse racing devotee gives Ed Loy just the name without any other details, refusing to break the seal of confession. Now dying of cancer, the priest's conscience troubles him. Meanwhile, Ed Loy takes on a case, assisting Joe Leonard in catching vandals. As Ed Loy pursues the Leonard case, he discovers a body dumped, a body with some shocking details and a piece of paper that might just relate to his jockey case. When Ed looks closer into the history of Patrick Hutton, the body count increases. Each victim has 2 cryptic tattoos roughly engraved into their skin and certain other details in common which Ed discovers when he comes across a dumped body. While the papers claim the murders are the work of a serial killer, The Omega Man, Ed Loy knows that the clues and relationships just do not fit the serial killer scenario. His investigation of jockey Patrick Hutton takes him into the tumultuous world of Irish horse racing and the Tyrell family where passions run deep and secrets are hidden even deeper.

From the very beginning of The Price of Blood, Declan Hughes takes the reader into an intimate vision of Ireland. Declan Hughes sections the book by date into Advent, Christmas, and St. Stephen's Day, thereby creating a temporal structure that relies on the Catholic calendar and focuses on Father Vincent Tyrell's world. His moral dilemma introduces this work of suspense, allowing the reader to catch both a glimpse at the depth of this character, as a man tortured by a secret he must keep and also as a compassionate man willing to stand out as he brings Tommy Owens into the fold of his church and protection despite the congregation's displeasure. From the very beginning, the reader feels Ed Loy's ties to his youth and his independence from the Dublin of his past through the interchanges with Father Tyrell.

Through the descriptions of the Joe Leonard case, Declan Hughes, takes the reader into Ireland's past and present as characters once isolated from one another by economics, now live in close proximity. Those who once thought of semi-detached housing as low class now are limited to council housing. Now, downcast, Joe Leonard is determined to protect his corner. To Joe Leonard, Declan Hughes juxtaposes F.X. Tyrell, a man for whom horse racing has improved his status and station in life.

As suspense, The Price of Blood delves into the dark side of horse racing, purebreds, and relationships as passions and past histories collide. The closer Ed Loy gets to answering the puzzles, the more surprising twists he uncovers. As St. Stephen's Day approaches with the exciting climactic horse race, even the best laid plans cannot prepare the characters for the shocking conclusions still to come. As with a previous past case, when the culprit is finally revealed, the revelations elicit unexpected actions. Secrets haunt but brought to light, do they bring comfort? Declan Hughes' suspense stands out precisely because answers are not easy or simplistic. Through the depth of the character of Father Vincent Tyrell, Declan Hughes creates a magnificent sense of pathos in his suspense that makes The Price of Blood a unique suspense read.

Declan Hughes is a must read for drama enthusiasts (particularly tragedy lovers) and literature enthusiasts. Father Vincent Tyrell recalls to mind Graham Green's memorable characters while simultaneously upping the ante several notches. While reading The Price of Blood, literature lovers might call to mind Oedipus Rex and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, not so much in terms of plot or characterization where there are both some similarities and differences, but more so for the brilliant way Declan Hughes deviates from these classics. Declan Hughes creates an innovative work of fiction that pays tribute to previous literary classics while transforming them, adding new twists as he places his tale in the suspense genre. The author invigorates the suspense genre with a new vision that will delight, indeed haunt lovers of both suspense and drama.

In summary, if you are looking for a light happy suspense read or a quick serial killer whodunit that you can easily put aside with disinterest shortly after finishing it, this book may not be the best choice. If you want a suspense read that glosses over the ramifications of actions or the pain endured by characters, search elsewhere. If you are looking for a unique read and one that stands out from all the books out there, in either suspense or literature, The Price of Blood is brilliant! Although tragic, The Price of Blood is hauntingly innovative --- the kind of book one remembers for its uniqueness.

Personal details:
I chose this book to read because suspense is one of my favorite genres for pleasure reads. As suspense, I loved this book but Declan Hughes' The Price of Blood was also much more than that for me. I am no longer in the academic world and only have time to write reviews not papers. When I read this book, however, part of me thought to myself that this book would be an awesome book to explore in a more scholarly way as well just because it is a great read AND the vision of drama permeating a different genre is so exciting. Some comparative literature scholar who reads suspense for fun really needs to take a serious look at Declan Hughes and run with him. The Price of Blood was a thrilling read for me on multiple levels!

Additional Notes:
Crime and sexual details make this book inappropriate for sensitive or young readers although neither are gratuitous.

The Price of Blood does not paint a pristine squeaky clean picture of religion. I feel that Declan Hughes does a good job at balancing the horrific things that happen in this suspense novel with his characterization of a multi-dimensional priest. Father Vincent Tyrell is a flawed but wonderful character, a real man of conscience, faith and human love despite the horrific consequences. In the midst of the horrific, the priest's courage and faith is all the more powerful.

Publisher: William Morrow (March 2008)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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