Backstory as unfinished business in Eleven Days
At the tail end of my last post on A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez, I left you with a list, explaining how as I read the book, I’d made a point of noting recurring instances of backstory (references to DI Carrigan’s past).
I also found that I could slot each of these into one of five categories:
- relationships with co-workers and superiors
- cold cases
Reading the second in Sherez’s Carrigan and Miller series, Eleven Days, I was very curious to see if and how unfinished business from A Dark Redemption would be resolved. The finest review I could find of Eleven Days by Stav Sherez is from Eva Dolan’s review in Loitering With Intent; this lady has a way with words!
With Christmas approaching and snow blanketing the city Carrigan and Miller are called to a fire on a affluent west London square. Hidden among the houses, the centre of the blaze is tiny convent home to the Sisters of Suffering. Records show that ten nuns were in residence at the time of the fire and once the smoke settles the search team discovers their corpses around the dining table in a room locked from inside. But then an eleventh body is found, trapped in a confessional in the basement, and this person hasn’t gone to their death quite as passively. Aware of the potential media interest across the dead time of the holidays Carrigan’s boss pushes for a PR friendly result, any suspect will do as long as it doesn’t reflect badly on the church, but as they delve into the history of the order and the sisters’ community outreach work, which is far from universally popular, they begin to suspect that the case is more complicated than a random arson. A suspicion which solidifies when they crash into a wall of perfectly polite resistance from the diocese, who are reluctant to have church business made public. But surely they wouldn’t kill over it. Unlike the Albanian gangsters who have taken an interest in the order and now have Carrigan and Miller in their sights. The Catholic church, with its labyrinthine protocols and myriad dirty secrets has been a boon for crime writers, with most following a predictable if outlandish formula, but Stav Sherez has neatly stepped away from those hoary tropes, exploring instead issues of Liberation Theology, workers activism and people trafficking, with a brutal, long buried history reaching across forty years to touch the present day. It’s ambitious, thought provoking material but Sherez weaves it into a solid crime narrative with impressive skill.
Now back to backstory:
Backstory development in Eleven Days
Have to say my list of categories wasn’t intentionally in any sort of order other than what came to mind at the time, but for expediency’s sake, I should probably address them in the same order, right? To begin at the beginning then, with ‘relationships with co-workers and superiors’, in A Dark Redemption much was made of DI Carrigan not fitting in, not being liked or accepted, ‘not a real cop’ etc. His superior, Branch, tells DS Miller: ‘Something of an office legend, our Carrigan. Takes files home with him and studies them at night. Cases that aren’t his. Thinks he’ll work out what other men couldn’t. You can see how that would not endear him to his peers… He’s never been one of us. Never wanted to.’ We’re told that DS Karlson ‘never liked Carrigan’ couldn’t understand why someone with a university degree would want to be a policeman. Didn’t like the fact that Carrigan hated sports, wouldn’t drink the station’s Nescafé and rarely joined the others for after-work drinks down the pub.’ Even Carrigan himself reveals that ‘it was something personal, something other cops, real cops, could always sense about him. A feeling of disengagement, not one of the boys, does things his own way – every cliché they could muster for someone from such a different background.’ However, in Eleven Days writer Sherez appears to have opted to allow Carrigan to settle into the mould set by the likes of Rebus and Wallander, less than popular with colleagues and in resolute disregard of his superiors almost to the point of insubordination. There are constant run-ins with Branch and his superior, Quinn, and one instance of fisty-cuffs with DS Karlson, but that’s about the extent of it. I’m not disappointed that Carrigan’s character is less extreme than originally suggested; I think a character that everyone dislikes might be too difficult to sustain. On to the second category, cold cases: in A Dark Redemption Branch’s comment to DS Geneva Miller about Carrigan thinking ‘he’ll work out what other men couldn’t’ is fleshed out later as Carrigan sits at his desk trying to focus on the current case:
He’d pushed his other files to the side, the growing mountain of unsolved cases, only the occasional phone call from a distraught relative to remind him they were still active. Each was accorded a separate coloured folder and as he placed them to the side he felt a spasm of guilt. He held the black file in his hands for a moment longer. This one was different. This one wouldn’t go away. No one else reckoned its contents amounted to a crime but Carrigan thought otherwise. He briefly flicked through the pages inside, the missing-person reports, the detectives’ summaries, the relatives’ statements. There were four photos, uncannily similar. Four teenage boys, three reported missing and one found dead. No one else thought there was a connection. The cases were spread too far apart, up and down and across the country, several years between them. Boys that age often disappeared for their own reasons. Many were never found because they didn’t want to be. But these four, something about them, the way each boy looked like the others, black glasses, long brown hair, something in their gaze. He slipped the pages back inside and put the file to one side.
And again in Chapter 18:
[Carrigan] began filling in the action sheets for the week then turned to his computer and saw that he’d received an email from Derbyshire CID. A young boy had gone missing two days previously. Carrigan had a request out for such information. In this new world of computerised policing it was no longer a matter of random phone calls and crossed fingers. He read the boy’s description, saw that it fitted with the rest. Private school, fifteen years old, a classical music geek with a good family and better prospects. Until he hadn’t returned from school. Carrigan saved the email, he had too much too think about with Grace and maybe, he hoped, the boy would turn up, nothing but a flash of teenage rebellion gone as quickly as it had flared.
I fully expected this cold case to come up in Eleven Days; it does, but only in passing, when Assistant Chief Constable Quinn advises Carrigan that he wants him to take charge of the case involving the deaths of ten nuns, Carrigan tries to get out of it:
‘Sir?’ Carrigan said, knowing this would be his one and only chance. ‘I’d rather you gave this to another DI. I’m in the middle of something else at the moment.’ Quinn coolly appraised him. ‘DSI Branch didn’t mention anything.’ No, of course not, Carrigan thought. ‘A sixteen-year-old boy went missing three days ago.’ ‘Young boys go missing all the time, you know that as well as anyone.’
So we know Carrigan is persistent… and I’m learning to be patient… I still expect this case to come up in a future Carrigan and Miller mystery. Number three on my list, the death of Louise, Carrigan’s wife, weighs heavy in both books. In A Dark Redemption his memories are vividly painful, his despair very evident, and going into Eleven Days, Carrigan’s sense of loss is still apparent, but his memories of Louise seem happier. When he comes home at night, he still keeps to the ritual of talking to Louise’s photograph, telling her about his day. We finally learn what happened to Louise when DS Geneva Miller, after a traumatic day, unthinkingly blurts out a question :
…[she] watched him as he worried the dulled ring on his left hand, seemingly unaware of what he was doing, turning it between his fingers as if it were a rosary. ‘How come you still wear it?’ she said before she could think twice about it. ‘Never had a reason to take it off.’ He glanced down at the small gold band and twirled it twice more to ease the pressure. ‘You loved her a lot,’ Geneva said, and it wasn’t a question. ‘Far more than I thought I did . . .’ ‘What happened?’ she asked, then quickly brought her hand up to her mouth. ‘I can’t believe I just said that. I’m so sorry. I must be a lot drunker than I realise.’ ‘Don’t be.’ Carrigan knocked back the remainder of his tequila, his eyes burning fierce and bright.
No spoilers. But even from this excerpt, we can see that Carrigan’s feelings are shifting; he’s ready to talk about Louise’s death. And in a later instance as Carrigan consoles a young woman who has suffered a similar loss:
‘I could tell you you’ll get over it, that time heals all wounds and all that, but I’m not going to lie to you. Your life will never be the same. You’ll always look back and see a clear demarcation. Everything will take place in reference to before or after.’
In the second book Carrigan is also becoming more aware of women: the nurse who has been caring for his mother since her admittance to hospital reaches out to him upon learning that he is a widow:
The nurse gently placed her hand on his arm. ‘I didn’t realise.’ He could feel the heat of her body filling the cold spaces inside him and he shivered involuntarily and took a step back, glad that the nurse didn’t try to console him with platitudes or empty phrases meant to make him feel better. He looked into her stark black eyes and saw storms and rages and everything she’d ever tried to forget, and he held her stare until they both looked away, slightly embarrassed.
‘Thank you for taking care of her.’ ‘It’s what I do,’ she replied, her smile tempered by what had passed between them. ‘My name’s Karen . . . if you ever need anything . . .’ He reached out and shook her hand, feeling the warm blanketing of her palm against his cold flesh.
Though Carrigans tentative steps toward involvement tend to get thwarted by the case, the mere fact that he’s making them suggest he’s on the mend. Talking about the nurse caring for Carrigan’s mother made me realize I’d left his mother off the list. An oversight, for sure. To rectify the situation, I’m going to take a look at this right now, especially since Carrigan’s relationship with his mother comes to the fore in Eleven Days. In A Dark Redemption there are just a couple of references to his mother. We learn that she used to encourage him to go to church, though his father argued against it, and in another passing reference, when asked by a friend how his mother was, Carrigan answered:
‘I was supposed to visit her today but this fucking case . . . last time I visited her she didn’t even recognise me. Kept shouting to the nurses that someone had broken into her room.’ He didn’t need to say more – you reached a certain age and these conversations were always hovering in the air, a kind of heavy weather everyone ignored until it was too late.
In the second book, Eleven Days, the opening scene has Carrigan at his mother’s bedside:
‘Who are you?’ the old woman said, pushing his hand away, her eyes wrinkled in confusion. She looked up at the nurse. ‘Who is this man? Why did you bring him here?’ Her voice was thin and wheezy and she lay swaddled in bedding, her skin as rumpled and folded as the blankets covering her. A single tear fell from her left eye and when Carrigan reached over to wipe it away the old woman flinched, shrinking back and pulling the sheets up over her head…
…He approached the bed cautiously, studying the old woman. How she’d changed. It was almost as if he were the one incapable of recognising her rather than the other way around. She seemed unravelled and trapped, lost in runaway memories, bone-pain and boredom; all the things that eventually catch up to you.
Witnessing Carrigan’s response to his mother not knowing him, her apparent fear of him, and his subsequent confusion and disorientation in the maze of hospital corridors as he tries to find his way to the exit, we see him differently than we did at the close of the previous book. He’s become more vulnerable, and this impression lingers in the back of our minds as we follow him through Eleven Days. DI Carrigan’s mother, his memories of her, crop up now and again, each time giving us a bit more insight into his earlier life. In one instance, Carrigan is questioning someone about their family, and remembers how ‘his father had disappeared from his life when he was sixteen and his mother certainly wasn’t like any of his friends’ mums, not with her rosary beads and Reader’s Digests, her spotted half-blind Jack Russell and the permanent scowl etched on her face by her husband’s abandonment.’ In giving us these brief, but telling, visuals of DI Carrigan’s mother, Sherez reveals something of both mother and son, and also about families. And speaking of families, I have a question that hasn’t yet been answered: Does Carrigan have kids, or did he invent them for his mother’s sake? In a semi-lucid moment, Carrigan’s mother asks him where Louise is, why she doesn’t come to visit her. Carrigan ‘leaned over and squeezed his mother’s hand. ‘She’s at home with the kids…’ I don’t think this can be considered a ‘spoiler’ as I can’t see that it is of any crucial importance to the story, but I do find it odd. Back to the list. When reading A Dark Redemption, I noted ‘music’ and ‘headaches’ as separate topics, but after reading Eleven Days, I’ve decided I want to take a closer look at these in conjunction with Carrigan’s tinnitus, not mentioned in A Dark Redemption, but mentioned twice Eleven Days, though not explained. Also, I feel I’ve short changed DS Geneva Miller, only alluding to her when something she does or says pertains to my exploration of DI Jack Carrigan’s character, so I want to study her character more fully. Not tonight, though. It’s past midnight and Moody Sleuth Tuesday has slipped over into Wednesday. G’nite now.