Betrayal, by Paul Carson

My review of Paul Carson’s Betrayal is posted on Eurocrime. I’m also posting the review below, but do check out the Eurocrime site for an excellent reading guide and resource.

Carson, Paul – ‘Betrayal’
Paperback: 464 pages (Jul. 2006) Publisher: Arrow ISBN: 0099469294

Paul Carson’s first two Dublin-based books, SCALPEL and COLD STEEL, were fast-paced hospital-based thrillers in the style of Robin Cook or Michael Palmer. I have not read his next two but his fifth, BETRAYAL, continues the medical, thriller and Irish themes, this time at Harmon Penitentiary, "Europe’s most dangerous jail".

The central character, Frank Ryan, is the prison’s chief medical officer. At the start of the book, he is called out late at night to attend a patient. On arrival, all is silent and in darkness. Ryan is attacked, severely beaten up, and wakes up later in what appears to be a hospital. Nobody will tell him why he is there, or even where he is, for some days. Eventually he finds out he is in England, his injuries apparently the result of a drunken brawl for which he is in trouble with the police. He’s shipped back to Dublin in disgrace: not only is his job on the line, but his impossibly beautiful girlfriend Lisa has vanished as if she has never been.

The rest of the book concerns Ryan’s attempts to find out what is going on. Lots of disparate elements are introduced: a corrupt Irish justice ministry, a corrupt prison administration (including Ryan’s boss), a corrupt police force and a corrupt, violent prison population, including a ganglord who forces Ryan to help him attempt to escape. As seems to be the current crime-fiction fashion, the Balkan conflict features at the heart of this excess of corruption, acting as the knot into which all the various ends are twisted.

Although this book is enjoyable enough, it is hard to care too much about whether Ryan comes through it all. The characters are mechanical, events implausible or illogical, the various motivating factors less than persuasive, and there are too many cliches (the disappearing "perfect" girlfriend subplot the most predictable of these, but there are others). The occasional passages containing medical details are the most convincing parts of the book, as one might expect given that the author is a doctor. The final resolution is hasty and superficial, but by this point in the book I didn’t have high expectations so it was not too much of a let-down.

Although it is hard to credit the words "The international number one bestseller" above the author’s name and title on the cover, the book certainly is a rattling good read if you are prepared to suspend belief. It is also a quick one: it will take only an hour or two. But don’t expect depth or reflection: what you’ll get is escapist, lightweight action that does not bear too much scrutiny.

A tale of three letters, for Susan

A letter posted from the trenches in Flanders in 1915 was delivered to its correct destination last week. The letter, from Private Walter Butler to his sweetheart Amy Hicks,  turned up in a sack of letters being carried by Martin Kay, the village postman in Colerne, Wiltshire. Mr Kay sought help from the local history society, and between them they found that the couple had gone on to marry and, although they are both now dead, have a daughter, aged 86, still living in the village. Joyce Hulbert, the daughter, was said to be "over the moon" to have received the letter.

A postcard from Poland addressed "Khumi, Yellow Door, Wilmslow, England" has turned up at its correct destination.  Paul Gardiner, a postman in the town, knew of only one Khumi in Wilmslow, and also knew she has a yellow door.  Khumi Burton praised the postman, who said: "We always do our best to deliver".

Stuart Conway of Hove, Sussex, set up a website offering to take people’s messages and throw them, in bottles, into the sea off Brighton pier. He has so far "delivered" more than 7,000 letters. Most of the letters are lonelyhearts notices, appeals for advice, and attempts to find former lovers. Mr Conway said that about 20 of the messages had been found, but only one had found its way to the correct recipient. "It was to a Swedish language student in Brighton, from her boyfriend", Mr Conway said. "I put it on her doorstep. It seemed stupid to throw it in the sea". Mr Conway has been warned by Brighton and Hove council that he is causing an environmental hazard because of the risk of bottles being washed up on the beach. I think this is unnecessary, as the opportunity for recycling is obvious.

(Sources for these stories: The Times over the past few days.)