Kerrigan, Gene. (2005). Little Criminals. New York: Europa Editions
This straightforward cops vs. baddies story mostly focuses on the criminal characters, a gang of Dublin lowlife men who kidnap the wife of a wealthy lawyer. The kidnappers are small-time thugs with delusions of criminal grandeur, and the third-person narrator supports their worldview, but we, the readers, quickly see that they are incompetent and stupid. That contrast gives the novel a subtly humorous tone and makes it more enjoyable than it otherwise would be.
There is also a mysterious first-person narrator who pops up from time to time to comment on events and explain things. We sometimes get the impression that this narrator is one of the gang members, since he seems to know what’s going on, but he is never identified or referred to by the other characters. He appears in a single cryptic line on the first page, then reappears with increasing frequency, in short bursts, throughout the novel. When, at 300 pages or so, an entirely new character and new story theme is jarringly introduced in backstory, we finally infer who the mystery narrator was. Clever perhaps, but it is not satisfying to introduce a new character at the 11th hour to explain how the rest of the story works. It violates the implicit contract in the crime genre between the reader and the author.
A nice writing technique was the author’s way of re-setting the clock back a few minutes or a few hours, and re-telling an episode from a different character’s point of view. It worked surprisingly well, although it was a bit odd, since if you have an omniscient narrator, you can always intercut character points of view using traditional markers for POV change. With Kerrigan’s method the narrator can stay close to the psychology of one character for a whole scene, then go back and re-do the scene, staying close to a different character, in a kind of Roshomon effect.
Overall then, the story was not too bad, although very traditional, not especially clever or amusing, and the writing was slightly above average, with a few innovative narration techniques, and some of the characters were mildly interesting.