The investigation into the kidnapping of Emily Howard, the teen daughter of the wealthy doctor Shane Howard, by Irish PI Ed Loy in Declan Hughes’s latest novel, The Color of Blood, uncovers dirty family secrets from twenty years in the past, and unravels an entire family’s web of deceits and crimes. Imagine, if you can, an author who is part James Joyce, part Shakespeare, mixed with a large measure of Ross Macdonald, and you can get an idea of Hughes’s descriptive and narrative powers, and his ability to write gritty, page-turning, gripping hard boiled detective fiction. This book has it all: blackmail, pornography, incest, rugby, and a noble and powerful family brought down low in the best tradition of a Shakespearian tragedy.
Family patriarch to a medical dynasty, Shane Howard, asks Ed Loy, back in Dublin from Las Angeles, to find his daughter Emily and bring her back to him. He shows Loy extremely graphic photos of Emily engaged in sexual acts with two other people. Whoever is behind the kidnapping and photos is demanding $50,000 to stop the photos and a porn film of Emily from hitting the Internet. Loy is sure that if the money is paid, it’ll just be the beginning of the blackmailers’ requests for more money.
One question that Loy wonders about is whether Emily has been forced to participate in the sex, or if she’s a willing partner or the main person behind the blackmailing of her father. He interviews the other family members to get more background information about Emily, and her possible motivations, and to try to find out if she’d ever been sexually abused. Loy asks Shane’s estranged wife, Jessica, if Emily might be behind the blackmail request:
"Why would Emily need to blackmail your husband? Surely he’s always given
her whatever she wants?"
"Only as long as she does what he wants. That’s the Howard family motto: do
what we want and we’ll tolerate you. The code of the Howards."
Loy brings Emily back to her father, but that doesn’t put a stop to the blackmail attempts, nor to Emily’s desire to run away to be with her cousin and sometime boyfriend, Jonathan O’Connor. One of her ex-boyfriends, David Brady, is the person who filmed the porn, but Loy discovers he wasn’t working alone. Brady appeared in a homemade porn flick with the then thirteen-year-old daughter of one of Loy’s friends, Tommy Owens. Revenge is a strong motive, but when Brady winds up dead, is Tommy the killer, or is he being set up by someone else?
The Color of Blood is a taut and suspenseful psychological portrayal of a rich family’s dark secrets. The sins of the past can, indeed, come back to haunt and destroy an entire family, as the Howards learn. Everything’s relative, to paraphrase Einstein--and, in The Color of Blood, it seems that, literally, everyone is related to each other in some way, and they all have a part to play in the family’s tragic downfall.
Dr. John Howard, the father of Shane and his sister Sandra (and others in the novel), who created the medical towers that founded the Howard fortune, and whom is idolized by Shane and Sandra, is long dead by the time of Emily’s kidnapping and the blackmail scheme. His incest with Sandra and her younger sister, who became pregnant by him and commits suicide by drowning herself in a pond on their land in November, is one of the many terrible secrets that the Howards have kept hidden for so long.
Join Ed Loy in tossing back a Guinness, a double shot of Jameson’s, and get yourself involved for a few hours of pure reading enjoyment with Declan Hughes’s The Color of Blood. As a bonus, a chapter from Hughes’s forthcoming book, The Price of Blood, is included at the end of this novel. Though at times it’s a bit difficult to sort out all of the ways people are related to each other, The Color of Bloodis an excellent thriller by one of the best writers of private eye fiction of this era.
REVIEWED BY DOUGLAS R. COBB
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