Murder in the Marsh
(darkstroke/Crooked Cat Books , 2020)
Kevin Carey’s (The Beach People and Jesus Was a Homeboy) latest novel, Murder in the Marsh, is everything you could want in crime noir. It’s gritty and face-paced, centering around a “murky marsh” and a down-and-out detective with a fuzzy past that haunts him. But still, this small book packs more than the usual punch. Unlike many of its kind, this book is not entirely plot-driven. There are many moments of thought-provoking interiority that helps build the characters, making them more real, and ultimately, relatable. Regrets and guilt play major roles throughout the story, with this constant pull toward dwelling on past mistakes all while struggling to push forward.
Set in 1981 Revere Beach, Massachusetts, we see the seediness (a city made of “scumbags” and rapists) through Eddie Devlin’s eyes: a tortured detective whose alcohol abuse and self-hatred has impaired his ability to do his job. But even after being let go from the force, Devlin realizes his troubles still follow him, including the dead body Michelle Letti, a girl he found in the marsh a year ago.
Almost everyone appears to be a bad guy, especially bad guys that want to hurt women. Sexual abuse and domestic violence is everywhere. A woman is either a victim of abuse by men or a sex object for them. None are taken seriously either, except Gwendolyn, the witty wheelchair-bound friend of Eddie’s. She is a refreshing attribute to the dark underbelly of this city and the male characters that dominate it, with her strong sense of humor and survival (she was of course, a rape victim who survived a brutal attack that left her in that chair), if only we had more of her.
The book alternates between Eddie and The Beast, the latter being the murderer in the marsh who got away on Eddie’s watch. Throughout “The Beast” sections, we follow the teenager, Kyle Hardy who does unspeakable crimes (especially to young girls) and continues to get away with it, fleeing from the beach to the mountains, and making a fresh start with a like-minded handyman who also has a fetish for doing harm.
In typical crime noir fashion, no one is as they seem. From Father Joe, who helps people get sober, to the retired cop Melvin Gillis, who solves cold cases, everyone has their secrets. Even Gwendolyn is hiding things not revealed until the end. And while we might know who The Beast is pretty quickly, the whodunnit is still here with new crimes popping up in the marsh that Eddie won’t stop to uncover.
Carey is good at keeping your attention by not only captivating the audience with suspense, but by placing the reader on the dark streets with characters that speak the native, “tough guy” language: “Next time find someone else to clean up your shit” and “Too many dirty cracks in the city for the scum to hide."
But it isn’t all rough street talk. This novel is sprinkled with lyrical gems full of vivid details that mix the grittiness with a side of comedy:
Eddie circled the car, studying it as if it were a museum piece or a gemstone that could give him answers. Maybe it would show him a vision of a corpse in that stinking marsh, buried like a nut in a Christmas fruit cake.
Carey is a creative in many forms: a poet and filmmaker, a playwright, and novelist. His work has even landed him two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. He knows how to craft an interesting crime story, but more importantly, he knows how to have fun with his words.