Morals and Irvine Welsh in the same sentence? Looks like. Granted, he's writing about pedophilia, which is like shooting fish in a morality barrel, but Welsh tackles conscience in Crime, his most accessible novel yet. Judging from the Scottish scribe's first Stateside-based novel, Welsh shows a real aptitude for American crime novels with this grim and witty morality tale.
Edinburgh police officer Ray Lennox (last seen in Welsh's 1998 Filth) is fresh off a harrowing serial killer case in Scotland, in which he had a mental breakdown and got reacquainted with a cocaine habit. Lennox's fiancée books a holiday in Florida for some R&R, but this being a Welsh book, that stands for Rum & Ruination. Within hours, Lennox is slamming down cocktails and having anxiety attacks about the murdered girl he couldn't save from the Scottish serial killer. Drinks turn into a cocaine binge at some seedy woman's apartment, while her 10-year-old daughter, Tianna, sleeps in the next room. Lennox soon gets tangled in a complex child sex ring that threatens his sense of morality and shows just how far some folks will delve into depravity.
With echoes of both Lolita and To Catch a Predator, Lennox gets the eerie feeling that everyone in the US is a "dirty nonce," and that very much seems true in Crime. Even Lennox starts to doubt his sense of right and wrong. Welsh's inimitable psychological study of Lennox is articulate, thoughtful, and damned entertaining.
Welsh knows how to nail a country's dark sensibilities—whether it be Scotland or the mess that is America. For example, as Lennox and Tianna cruise down a strip-mall-laden highway they listen to the radio: "Call-in voices blast out, citizens as proud to demonstrate their intellect in radio's anonymity as they are to display their stupidity in front of TV cameras." Or there's the early-morning fitness program that Lennox's fiancée, Trudi, watches, where aerobics instructors "combine fitness maintenance with quality pet time" by doing bicep curls with their cats. Welsh, who now splits his time between the Sunshine State and the UK, might just be the new cousin to great and funny Washington, DC, crime writer George Pelecanos. Here's hoping so.