“This is not a girl,” he told himself. “This is a little chemical time bomb standing here in front of me, waiting to go off.”
One of the best things about blogging, is that I get tips about books that I might not have found otherwise. So for Irish author Conan Kennedy’s The Colour of Her Eyes, I owe a big thank you to Tom at A Common Reader. Tom posted a review of the book a few months back. I read the review, had a (generous) sample of the book sent to my kindle, and then ordered a copy. For N. American readers, this book came at the ridiculous give-away price of $2.99.
The Colour of Her Eyes is a crime novel, a hell of a suspenseful page-turner (or should I say button pusher since I read it on the Kindle). When the novel begins, we know that a crime has been committed, and we also know that it’s something quite ugly. The story unfolds through a series of interviews conducted by D.I. Harris, a member of the Sussex police with John Stanley Dexter, a well-to-do married, middle-aged businessman who 15 years or so earlier worked, unhappily, as a teacher at Walthamstow School. The interviews–written in the form of transcripts–alternate with Dexter’s memories of his past and Harris’s mordant ruminations as he investigates the case. Just what that ‘case’ is unfolds in time as the combative interviews play out. Here’s Harris interviewing, or should I say, interrogating Dexter about a girl who attended the school:
“I’m a tit man. And I’m telling you she was wearing a skimpy little top with her tits poking out one end and her belly the other. Am I right?”
“Where did I go wrong?”
“Well in those days you wouldn’t see their stomach. It wasn’t the fashion.”
“Ok. You’re the expert. On underage girls. I’m only the amateur here. But I bet I’m half right. I bet her tits were falling out of her top.”
“It was pretty low cut, yes.”
“You in the fashion business, the rag trade?”
“You know I’m not.”
“Well stop saying things like it was pretty low cut. What we both mean is her fucking tits were falling out of her fucking top. Am I right?”
“Ok, you’re right.”
“Good. Now. So what do we have here. This little teenage poppet. Tits all over the shop. With nice thighs.”
“I didn’t say that. Didn’t say anything about thighs.”
“No you didn’t, but you said she was wearing a skirt.”
“That is not the same thing.”
“Did she not have nice thighs?”
And so it begins again.
Dexter’s memories take him 15 years back into the past to 1996 when he briefly worked as a 25-year-old teacher:
Six months teaching and already he hated the little fuckers. Oh ok, put it a bit more diplomatically, he just didn’t trust teenagers.
He’s chaperoning a disco, feeling he was “too fucking old to be at a teenagers’ disco” when he meets a 15-year-old teenage jailbait of a temptress who calls herself Moonshine–a girl with remarkable green eyes:
She still didn’t smile, but looked at him intensely. A lot more intensely that he would have expected, with the vodka and drugs and whatever else. That look reminded him of some animal behind bars, in a zoo. There’s a moment when it suddenly catches your eyes. And you realise that you haven’t a clue who is in there. This was that moment. It shook him up a little, unnerved him a bit.
I don’t want to look into this girl’s eyes, he realised.
She’ll draw me in. And I’ll drown. And I’ll end up on a sex register.
As it turns out, and it comes as no surprise, teaching just isn’t Dexter’s calling. He moves on to the business world and as would fate would have it, 5 years after the disco, as a sales manager, he runs into Moonshine (real name Ruth Taylor) who’s waitressing, supporting a child and who’s been on the game. Dexter eventually becomes a rather well-heeled executive who owns a large country home with the baggage of all the material accoutrements–including a pony for one of his children and a wife who demands some ridiculously pretentious social markers. While Dexter may be comfortable financially, there’s something missing from his life. Meeting Ruth again is a momentous occasion which changes Dexter and Ruth’s lives for ever, and then, rather strangely, fate seems to throw them together again in five-year intervals.
These meetings–which may or may not be chance–occur over the years, and Dexter discusses them partly through the police interviews, and partly through memory. Perhaps due to Ruth’s cynicism and life experience, gradually the age gap between Dexter and Ruth appears to shrink. Meanwhile Dexter’s discontent with his wife, Yvette grows:
No, Dexter couldn’t really stand Yvette.
But she was good with the children, and he loved her for that. And he had loved her for all sorts of things too, once. So he loved her for that too.
“She’s volatile,” he said to his boss that night, that particular night after Yvette had stormed out of the room. Not that it had to be any particular night. Yvette stormed out of rooms quite a lot. But disagreement about EU politics was her starting gun for the current storm. Yvette thought most countries should be like Belgium. Only more so.
Due to the novel’s clever structure in which gems of information are parcelled out through police transcripts and memories, author Conan Kennedy creates intensity, suspense, and an irresistible desire to get to the truth. The truth however, proves to be elusive, and Harris’s frustrations with Dexter grow exponentially. When the story begins, Dexter seems to be the main character, but as the plot plays out, that role seems to shift to Harris. There’s no small amount of envy directed from Harris towards Dexter:
A bloke turning fifty with a good job seems to have most things already. Apart from time, and youth, and young women in the bed. Yes, apart from that sort of thing.
Harris looked at women. Pretty. And pretty much out of reach, to a detective inspector turning fifty. Glass between me and the stuff in the windows, he decided, and too much time between me and the girls. Out of reach. Well shit, maybe not completely out of reach. But much like the stuff in the shop windows. He didn’t really want them an awful lot, or need them much. But he watched them anyway.
Harris, who’s fifty, looking at a quiet retirement, and attracted to a young female PC is aware that some of his behaviour crosses or least comes dangerously close to the borders of sexual harassment. Perhaps this explains his barely camouflaged resentment of John Dexter because his suspect is a man who’s crossed the lines of various taboos more than once. Kennedy creates a massive amount of tension–tension between private and public lives, tension between what is desired and what is attainable, and tension between the haves and the have-nots. With this much tension, something’s got to give, and that’s where murder enters the picture. As Harris notes:
That’s a bad triangle. Women and money and revenge.
A great deal of the novel is set in the drabness of the seaside town of Bognor Regis, and somehow the descriptions of the deserted beach and its “long rows of empty deckchairs” suit the atmosphere of this moody psychological crime novel. I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed in the ending and found myself with a lot of questions, but then, as I clicked to the final page….there’s a sequel! And no doubt some of the questions I have will find answers there. So… Conan, if you read this, where’s the sequel?
24 responses to “The Colour of Her Eyes by Conan Kennedy”
I read the review of this on Tom’s blog and was equally interested. It does still sound like one I would love to read, cleverly plotted. Although I like my crime to have an end. I own no kindle and am not reading on the Mac or I would have gotten it as well.
Amazing somehow that really good books can be published this way now.
On the other hand it means I’m forced into buying a kindle as some books may not come out in paper anymore…
Well it does have an ending, but I was left thinking WTF? But then came the sequel thing, and I’m more than fine with that. I agree that it’s fantastic to see books get published this way.
Sounds great. I’ll look for it.
I think you’d like it Emma. I couldn’t put it down.
It sounds very good indeed, but incomplete. I am a bit concerned at starting a heavily plotted book where the answers are left for a sequel that may never be written, and may leave further unanswered questions.
It’s not like I need everything answered as a rule, but in a plot driven book it’s more of an issue. Still, you can feel the tension through those quotes. That’s no small thing.
Max: I must have given the wrong impression. The book ends (there’s a solution) but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Somehow it felt ‘wrong’. Does that make sense? Then I read about the sequel and thought ok then, there is more to it.
I’m tired today. I probably misread slightly. Thanks for that. Wrong still flags a slight concern, but it does sound very nicely judged generally.
Without giving away why it felt wrong… Bottom line: I’ll buy and read the sequel.
Even if the resolution of the plot is not entirely satisfactory, from what you say about the book, there is much more than plot that keeps you turning the pages.
There’s something very seedy about English seaside resorts, isn’t there? Makes them ideal settings for thrillers – as, I guess, the author of Brighton Rock knew.
I’ll look out for this one. There’s something about your description of this book that reminded me of that marvellous British film (although directed by Sidney Lumet) “The Offence”, with Sean Connery & Ian Bannen.
Sad that Lumet passed away this year – a fine, and underrated, director. His last film (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) is one of my favourites from the last few years.
If I read crime novels I reckon I’d read this, Guy. The writing looks good. Does it stand out from other crime novels you read or is it just a good example of crime writing?
Gummie: I read a lot of crime, and I think this author’s style is superior. It matches the tone very well. I found the dialogues and the sticky difficult interviews realistic. The author has a knack for keeping the suspense top notch.
Argumentative: have you seen the new Brighton Rock?
No – our local cinema only shows the latest blockbusters, and it’s a bit much travelling all the way into London to see a film. I’ll try to catch it on DVD. But for me, Richard Attenborough will always be Pinkie!
I think the remake is good, but as so often the case, you really are looking at two different films. I’m looking forward to The Mysteries of Lisbon.
BTW, my cinema is the same thing. It’s Jason-style horror or Disney. I wait for the DVD.
Thanks Guy … I’ll try to remember this author as a possibility should I turn to crime!
I’ve been letting my reading of other bloggers slip lately and missed your review of this one. Surely it must be one of the best value reads at the moment. I think you’ve unpicked the secret of its success as a novel here, “Due to the novel’s clever structure in which gems of information are parcelled out through police transcripts and memories, author Conan Kennedy creates intensity, suspense, and an irresistible desire to get to the truth”. I think Kennedy has much scope here for the promised sequel
Yesterday I downloaded a sample of a new crime novel onto the kindle. No names here but it was so bad I deleted it after a page (another great feature of the kindle: sampling). I found myself thinking about this novel in comparison. Conan Kennedy really knows how to spin a tale whereas the other author was very rudimentary. Anyway, thanks again for the tip. I really enjoyed this one.
Hi everybody…and thank you for that review and the interesting comments…I reckon this feedback is very useful and some of the comments will be in back of my mind as I continue work on the sequel…which will appear ! I agree that some eBoo/kindle material out there is dreadful, but I suppose same might go for books on paper…regards to all anyway, Conan Kennedy.
Thanks for stopping by Conan, and thanks for writing such a superior crime novel. I look forward to the sequel.
It’s certainly not your usual thriller formula with buttons and bows tying up the end .Like life it leaves questions. In thay respect it’s a novel for grownups. More psychology than psychosis which makes a pleasant change.. Well written too.
I’m about to write a review on this novel for Acclaimedbooks.com and Conan pointed me to this blog a few weeks ago. I wanted to form my own opinions before reading these but I concur with most of what’s been said.
This is an extremely well crafted, psychological, crime novel. Although there is one point a number of comments above make upon which I disagree. I didn’t find the ending incomplete. I felt it was resolved whilst leaving the scope open for more about Ruth’s story, or will that be Ruth, John, Sandy or all of them?
However the story continues, it will be Conan’s gifted style that ensures we all rush out and buy it.
Hello Pete: a great read, isn’t it?
I didn’t find the novel incomplete, but my initial disappointment in the ending came as a result of a lot of unanswered questions–along the lines of “how did that happen?” Then when I clicked to the final, final page I saw “to be continued…” so I was fine with that. As you say, scope for the story of some or all of the characters to be continued. I didn’t know this was a series novel, so when I came to the end, I thought that was that.
It was never incomplete for me–just the solution left so many questions–and these will no doubt be answered next time
Hi, Readers here might be interested in a bit of feedback about what can happen when a book such as Colour of Her Eyes does reasonably well..a few weeks back I was approached by The Sunday Independent, Irelands major newspaper, million readers etc etc.They wanted to do something on the book. Instead they did something on me, (there’s a link to article on my website)…in fact they did a full page on me, more or less saying I was creepy/evasive/difficult…and had written a strange book about my wife. (I think she’ll sue. Them. Not me.) They wrapped up the article with a two line mention of the book. But they did spell my name right. Oh well.
What’s that quote about no such thing as bad publicity!