Cradle Song by Robert Edric

06/08/03, The Times

Critics have long bemoaned Robert Edric’s perverse exclusion from the highest echelons of literary success. Cradle Song, his thirteenth novel, and the first of a projected trilogy of ‘literary crime’, should usher in the long overdue end of this sorry state of affairs. Edric has always been a conjurer of styles and themes, a veritable Stanley Kubrick of the world of fiction. Think of the Conradian study of the devastation of colonialism that was In Desolate Heaven, or the incisive psychological and moral realism of the Booker-longlisted Peacetime. Think of his homage to Angela Carter, The Sword Cabinet, a small masterpiece of links, connections and miscegenations. It is a cause for jubilation that he has decided to turn his virtuoso talents to the crime novel.

In Cradle Song, Martin Roper, a convicted paedophile, pornographer and child murderer, is serving life but decides to appeal his conviction on the grounds that it is unsafe. The original police investigation was rife with corruption and the vast network of paedophiles of whom Roper was only a tiny, although vital link was allowed to disperse and go underground. Now Roper wants to reveal all – hard evidence of the other people involved in the network, of the way he was stitched up, of the whereabouts of the corpses of the long-missing girls – and cut a deal with the new investigating forces from the National Child Protection Unit in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Hearing of this possibility, James Bishop, father of one of the missing girls, approaches private investigator Leo Rivers to help him locate the body of his daughter. Slowly, it dawns on Rivers that he is just another cog in an intricate mechanism of duplicity, lies and secret deals. What exactly is the role of Smart, the man from the NCPU heading the new inquiry into Roper’s former associates and the corrupt retired former DCI Sullivan? What of Sunny, Rivers’ friend, who runs a media agency? Who is using whom in this devilishly plotted chess of moves and countermoves?

Narrated in the first person voice of Rivers, this deeply intelligent novel , part police procedural, part legal thriller, all roman noir, has as its authorial presences behind it the P.D. James of Innocent Blood, the Matt Scudder series by Lawrence Block, even Pat Barker’s Border Crossing. Here you will find no trendy, swaggering mavericks, no painfully hip (and equally painfully derivative) one-liners, no compulsive search for the outré – from wheelchair-bound detectives, impotent psychiatrists, to kick-boxing lesbians – that bedevils the contemporary crime novel. Instead, it is firmly and refreshingly anchored to recognisable realities and is infinitely more powerful for that. The vertiginously devious plot twists, the maze of multiple-crossings, all close like a fist around the throat of the reader. In prose as dry as a spare bone left to bleach in the tropical sun, Edric delineates a relentlessly dark world where human motives and desires are unreadably murky, all truths are provisional and compromised, and human complicity casts a long shadow over our best intentions. Edric makes it impossible for the crime novel to be considered the country cousin of serious literature any longer.