Good Red Herring by Susan Maxwell. Book review

Good Red Herring by Susan Maxwell, Little Island Books, price £7.99

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

Not so much a red herring as the story of what can be done with a frozen Mercurian cutlass fish, and how the murderer arranges for the fatal weapon to be served up in a curry.

Imagine a book like a Pogues concert! Chaotic, powerfully creative, wonderful, whilst utterly exasperating at times, littered with classic and classical Irish references all united in a glorious cacophony of intense delight and beauty. Well this is it! Don’t be put off by the dull cover and subdued title, this story is as sustaining as buttered fruit-cake with all the glory of a besieged post office. You can last out days in it.

There in an intense, almost magical devotion to incidental detail that easily leads the reader away from the plot into a fantastic landscape with a bizarre yet strangely familiar society peopled by vampires, werewolves, witches, druids and other odd folk, including aliens. This often causes the reader to go back and re-read given passages not just because of the story but also to fully understand the universe in which it is contained. This is quite an extraordinary experience as often all you are left with is a tantalising hint of distant, half-understood, poorly explained events which leaves you asking for more.

You see the land of Muinbeo, a unique place in the space-time continuum, lies beyond the Great Way. It is some sort of an island where ancient things pertaining to the Greeks, Byzantine, Egyptian and Viking cultures among others, persist together with long forgotten myths alongside the remnants of old legends about the `sidhe’ and the `Fir Bolg’; all long lost to the Outland. Here a handsome legendary confection of human history intermingles with modern things like mechanical horses.

There has been a murder and Detective Chief Inspector McCabe, a vampire and immortal is on the job. It was the were-hound Cullen who found the corpse of Persephone-Fen Maguire, the amanuensis to Senator Woudes, stabbed to death. Only he couldn’t report it for fear of being outed as a dimorph, that is a human that can turn into another animal at will. Such a useful facility is subject to institutional discrimination in Muinbeo society where dimorphism is frowned upon. Thus we are drawn to the very core of the tale: a tragedy that lies at the root of many societies.

The hero of the story, Salmon-Grove Farsade, the teenage apprentice Guardian to the missing Bassett Dunne, deputy to MaCabe is drafted in to assist her boss’s boss. Her gift is the ability to read auras and find missing things. This takes us to the resolution of the murder. McCabe is a fortunate detective not least because he can alter his positon in both time and space. He is aided by a mechanical dog and possess a top hat which resembles a mobile office and tool-bag combined.

Their enquiries draw them to the Gallagrene Bog and a mysterious cabal calling themselves the Gallagrene Group. We end up with a very human story of corruption, attempted cover-up and the dread responses that follow on from these misdeeds.

This is a very moral tale told in the most entertaining way possible. It is always fascinating that writers who work or have worked in large bureaucracies can become absorbed by process, yet Maxwell has managed to do this in a quite amusing, hilarious yet polite fashion.

This is a good story, rich in imagination. The map in the bookends is not particularly useful but the glossary and dramatis personae are very helpful.

1 Comment on Good Red Herring by Susan Maxwell. Book review

  1. Thank you very much for such a enthusiastic and detailed review – my year could not have gotten off to a better start!

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