April 20, 2014
Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson
I came to crime fiction via Kate Atkinson, so Hilary Davidson is something of a departure. She’s less blurry about genre, more bare-bones, hardboiled. Though not so much that there isn’t a character here who isn’t always spouting literary allusions, this time Marcus Aurelius. And the spouter is Desmond Edgars, a fascinating character, a helicopter pilot who hauled his own good self out of a troubled youth by way of a good education and military service. Though there is a hollowness to him, something broken in his core, and what makes Blood Always Tells different from the other crime novels I’ve read lately is that Desmond’s emotional truth and complexity stays peripheral to a question that refuses to digress, despite Davidson’s plot with its many twists and turns. And the question, of course, is, Who done it?
But who done what? It’s not straightforward. The book opens with Desmond’s half-sister, Dominique, who’s putting a plan in motion to take revenge on her cheating boyfriend, but then the two of them get kidnapped and holed up in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere. It seems like Dominique’s boyfriend has set them both up to get money out of his heartless wife (yes, he’s married. Yes, it’s complicated) or else the wife is out to get them both, and luckily Dominique has better luck getting a cellphone signal than she does getting her bearings. She manages to get through to her brother Desmond who drops everything to come and find her, to come to rescue just like he always did.
Blood Always Tells is a novel steeped in atmosphere, and it took me a while to find my own bearings, partly because Dominique is not well defined, and the story of her boyfriend and his wife is vaguely preposterous. But once Desmond took over the story, I was hooked, his perspective adding a steadying force, which is essential as the story gets wilder and wilder. Suddenly, we’re dealing with stupid cops and hostile cops, drug dealers, glamour models, three different tragic family legacies, and the extraordinary lengths that one sibling will go to protect another.
The final time I sat down with this book, I had just a few pages left, but absolutely no idea how the story would be resolved. The only thing I was expecting was that I would probably be surprised, and I was, even shocked. Hilary Davidson has nerve, in addition to skill, and in this, her first stand-alone novel, she’s made her mark and it’s truly first-rate.