With previous works titled “Filth,” and “Porno,” Irvine Welsh is one of the originals of transgressive fiction, not unlike a Scottish Chuck Palahniuk or Bret Easton Ellis.
His newest novel, “Crime,” doesn’t deviate from that milieu, for in the past it has served him well. It’s just that this time the shtick seems tiresome.
“Crime” follows Edinburgh Det. Ray Lennox, a recurring character who made his first appearance in “Filth.” In this installment, Lennox is on leave for a mental break; a forced hiatus from work disguised as a vacation in Miami. The getaway comes in the wake of a child rape-murder investigation that has struck Lennox with a serious bout of post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead of finding quiet and respite in Miami, the detective — who himself has a history of addiction and fits of violence — embarks on the dangerous, perhaps futile mission of rescuing a young American girl from a ring of pedophiles.
Welsh’s fans won’t be surprised to find explicit passages of drug use, deviant sex and tortured inner monologue in “Crime.” He used similar devices in the much-appreciated “Trainspotting” and made those passages terrifyingly elegant. While “Crime” contains sections of the same poignance, it’s used to too little effect. Readers get mired in a plot that reads more like a script from “CSI” than a serious piece of crime fiction. If Lennox can be construed as a contemporary Philip Marlowe, he has all of the same pathos but none of the style.
Put simply, there’s not enough edge in “Crime.” Still, as a writer who often gives his characters significant, if grim complexities, Welsh does scrutinize certain relevant topics in his oblique way here.
The author’s grotesque portrait of Miami is a fitting exaggeration, and in it, Lennox is a fascinated outsider. Seeking out booze, drugs and sex in the seedy underbelly of the city, he’s a mortal given to monstrous proclivities. In him, readers are told that even the good sometimes falter.
More broadly, Lennox’s bender is a reminder that moral turpitude spans continents, cultures and infects even our leaders and agents of law enforcement. Though the detective looks to exonerate himself, Welsh is capturing the deterioration of a society.
Unfortunately, however prescient Welsh may be with observing contemporary dystopia, it’s not new for him. If optioned to the bigscreen, there’s certainly enough action to make an exciting film out of “Crime.” Yet, as the newest piece of fiction from a great author, it falls short.