Kieran Crowley loves alliteration and hasn’t met an adjective he doesn’t at least like. The first sentence of his novel, Hack, reads:
‘On my third day on the job at the tabloid New York Mail, I was weaving a quiet, climate-controlled cocoon of predictability inside my beige, carpeted cubicle.’
Two sentences later we get:
‘I watched a flock of dirty pigeons in tight formation wing up from the unseen sidewalk below, shape-shifting past my window, mounting the space between the buildings.’
The book continues like this for another 300 interminable pages, a torrent of extraneous description the reader chews through for little reward. When you want clean and crisp with Hack you only get muddied.
For all the over-abundance of description the writing doesn’t even help illuminate the action most of the time. Despite his fondness for detail, the author too often seems to highlight elements that just confuse. For example, at one point, following a murder, we get, ‘his silent throat and mouth open wide’. His throat was silent? Unlike those talkative throats we normally get?
Even at half the length though, Hack’s thin plot would struggle to stand up. We have F.X. Shepherd, employed by the rag mentioned above, unwittingly drawn into a murder mystery. Powerful people are being killed gruesomely and, for no particular reason I can deduce, the police need him to help with their investigations. What follows issupposed to be a macabre satire on the newspaper industry and the fetishisation of celebrity death. Think Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, or Jonathan Coe’s What a carve up! But unlikely those two novels with their quick, incisive wit, Hack is a plodder, its jokes telegraphed from miles off and not very funny when they arrive.
It doesn’t help that the lead character is a smug, know-it-all, with a semi-permanent smirk on his face. That’s in addition to being a misogynistic reactionary. The other characters are barely thought-out ciphers, some of whom are there only for Shepherd to display his unbelievable unarmed combat ability.
If you’re looking for a good story featuring a crime-solving journalist, I’d recommend checking out the works of M.H. Baylis, which, in addition to being far better written, have the added benefit of being set in London.
According to the front of Hack, Kieran Crowley, who passed away in March 2016, is a New York Times bestselling author. Looking into his previous work it appears this is due to his non-fiction crime reporting. It seems unlikely to me that Hack will join these pieces atop the bestsellers list.
Hack was published by Titan Books on 13 Oct. 2015.
You can purchase a copy of Hack from Foyles:
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Review by Joseph Surtees