A Chaser on the Rocks
A Chaser on the Rocks marks the debut novel by Irish crime writer Simon Maltman, and is an engaging and unique tale of crime and corruption set across two eras of Irish history.
The book revolves around a down-beaten Irish PI named Brian Caskey, a man who lost his family in an IRA bombing attack – an event from which he never quite recovered and, as part of his own personal rehabilitation, writes detective novels of his own, focusing on the character of Billy Chapman. The book develops the story of Caskey, but also features his Chapman novel as a story-within-a-story. The two stories work as two separate tales – each with their respective twists and developments, Initially, the Chapman tale reads as the more interesting of the two – set in WW2-era Northern Ireland as Chapman is hired on a routine job to investigate an alleged suicide, which soon progresses (in classic noir fashion) into a dark case of blackmail and betrayal, overshadowed by the looming threats from Europe and the bombing raids gradually laying waste to the country. Whilst initially seeming a mere set-up for the second story, the present-day story gathers a pace of its own and unfolds into an interesting story of its own, as Caskey investigates a deep drug-smuggling operation running under the cover of a charitable organisation, with the lingering atmosphere of Troubles-era Ireland overshadowing the story in the same way the WW2 setting looms over the Chapman story.
It’s not an easy feat to pull off a double-story of this kind, but it’s handled well here. Both plots move at a swift and eventful pace, with pretty much equal attention and text-time given to each story (chapters alternating between each one), meaning neither story feels underdeveloped at the expense of developing the other. . The two differing plots hold up well, and the Caskey story in particular evolves into a well-developed and surprisingly engaging piece of modern detective fiction. It culminates in an unexpected and somewhat surreal twist ending, as the two tales finally come full-circle. Arguably, given the dual-plot, the book could have benefitted from being lengthier, so as to develop and flesh out the stories further, but even as it stands the plots hold up well and fits a solid amount of content within it.
The main characters are developed well and given interesting, if tormented, histories, and in terms of setting, Ireland makes for an interesting and unique background – the period of the Troubles and the IRA lend a good backdrop to tales of this nature, and Maltman has carved out an interesting niche area for himself to work from, and it will be interesting to see how this is explored in future works. Lots of detail about Ireland and historical information is given, and the early settings involving Chapman’s investigations down on the desolate cliff tops before being dragged back to civilisation to face the results of the German bombing raids are quite compelling reading. Whilst the setting and style is unusual, the book has all the expected hallmarks of a detective novel – a PI with a broken past, criminal conspiracies, memorable settings and a satisfying twist ending. References to Hammett and Chandler are dotted throughout the text, and certainly much is owed to the classic authors here. The mood is cynical, the wisecracks are plentiful, and the alcohol pours generously.
Overall it’s an enjoyable and unusual read, made memorable for its somewhat unique setting and successful balancing of two differing but equally well-developed and interesting plots. As a debut novel it leaves a firm impression, and bodes well for the works to come from the author.