This week’s Crime Fiction Alphabet is brought to you by the letter I which, in my case, stands for Inheritance by Keith Baker which was published in 1996 and was oddly prophetic in some ways. The book is set 20 years into the future and posits a world in which ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland came to an end after the brutal killing of an IRA leader. Twenty years after the killing Jack McCallan is left a sizable financial inheritance by his father but he also discovers that his father, a retired policeman from the Northern Irish force, also knew secrets about that killing that, if revealed, could bring an end to the uneasy peace. Despite being warned off by pretty much everyone he encounters, including the chief constable of the Northern Ireland Police Service Jack is determined to uncover the truth about the original killing and also to find out if his own father was killed to prevent that truth becoming known.
In what seems to be a well trodden path Keith Baker was for many years a journalist which including a period covering the Northern Ireland beat for the BBC. Like other journalists turned fiction writers (Daniel Silva, Matt Beynon Rees and Leonardo Padura just to name a couple) he uses his in-depth knowledge of his setting to produce a very credible story. One of the most memorable things about the book for me was the way it captured the sense of war-weariness that everyone exhibited. While Jack thinks that people continue to hide the past’s secrets for personal reasons readers get the sense that, for some at least, the primary motivator is that everyone had enough of the conflict and simply don’t want anything to jeopardise the fledgling truce between the IRA and British forces.
The sense of ‘future’ is only really portrayed in the political sphere of the book and is not taken into day-to-day life so in that way the book doesn’t quite work. I imagine that setting a book a relatively short time into the future presents problems for writers (they can’t let their imaginations go completely wild) but I did notice that nothing seemed to change in terms of technology, cars, social norms etc. Given that we’re only a little over half-way to Baker’s ‘future’ and there have already been huge advances in terms of the technology available (in law enforcement as well as for the general public) from what existed in 1997 this aspect of the book probably does date it.
However, it’s a smashing ‘cold case’ story with above average characterisations and a very real sense that it, or something very like it, has happened in the real world.
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Inheritance won the WH Smith Fresh Talent Award in 1996.
I picked up Inheritance while travelling in the UK in 1997 and haven’t read any of the three subsequent standalone crime thrillers Baker wrote which says more about their availability down under than my interest in his writing. The last of these thrillers was published in 2000 but Fantastic Fiction, usually an excellent resource on such matters, also lists two recent sci-fi/fantasy books for the same author although my ‘research’ (i.e. a couple of minutes spent googling) suggests they might be by a different Keith Baker who is an American game designer and writer. But I suppose stranger things have happened than the former head of news for the BBC Northern Ireland turning into a tattooed sci/fi author and game developer
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My previous entries in the Crime Fiction Alphabet are
- A is for Absolution (Caro Ramsay)
- B is for Bones (Jan Burke)
- C is for Contest (Matthew Reilly)
- D is for Deadlock (Sara Paretsky)
- E is for Entombed (Linda Fairstein)
- F is for Fortress [Gabrielle Lord]
- G is for Gambit [Rex Stout]
- H is for Heartsick [Chelsea Cain]
So far so good on my plan to use one word titles for all my entries in this meme though I’m only 2-3 weeks ahead at any time and I foresee grave problems towards the end of the alphabet