Ever listen to the news and think "Man, that Ireland sure is turning around. I need to get there and experience all that economic growth and prosperity from the early 2000's myself?" Have no fear, Gene Kerrigan is here to disabuse you of such notions. His novels "The Midnight Choir" and "Little Children" expose the reader to the gritty, sad and conflicted reality underlying Ireland's economic ascension. It would be a stretch to say that Ireland itself becomes a character in "Little Children;" however, it would be a disservice to the author to understate the role that the state of Ireland plays.
"Little Children" reads like a tragedy of errors, some forced and others an unfortunate result of the environment our characters inhabit. Given the Occupy movement occurring today, the criminals involved in the titular kidnapping that drives the bulk of the narrative present an interesting foil, albeit a more selfish and greedy foil. Out for a score that would set them up for life, led by a small time crook with big time dreams, things go wrong almost from the gate. Even though the reader can easily see that things are destined to take the kind of turns Kerrigan takes, seeing them unfold is still thrilling.
More so than "The Midnight Choir," "Little Children" presents the reader with clear-cut villains and heroes. This is not to say that we find them where we expect them, as Kerrigan pulls out a few surprises along the way. I particularly appreciate the way he humanizes his characters, for better or worse. Frankie Crowe is a criminal we can both despise and pity at the same time. His crew are a motley team of men driven by a hunger for something better, for a piece of the pie they see so many others eating.
The upper class comes across a little more clueless (not sure if that was on purpose), and more unaccustomed to the hard knocks associated with a struggle to survive (pretty sure that WAS on purpose) than Kerrigan's "Midnight Choir." It works in this novel simply because the disbelief on the part of the victims comes across as genuine and adds to the level of suspense and terror the reader feels.
"Little Criminals" may not blow you away with its mesage. It's not a novel that I found to be deep in the sense that I spent days afterward thinking about its many levels of meaning. Instead, it's the scenes and the characters, the little details like describing the garda policy of not negotiating with kidnappers while simultaneously helping the family make the arrangements they know they will make for the ransom that stick around. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend to the crime enthusiast out there. I'm looking forward to expanding my international crime reading experience this year with Izzo's Marseilles trilogy and Caryl Ferey's Utu.