Thursday, 18 March 2021

Ruby Reviews The Making of a Detective by Pat Marry


True crime is a difficult genre to nail. A myriad of TV series and films attempt to rehash old crimes, using alleged expert talking heads and corny-voiced narrators to try and squeeze out entertainment from old material without any real insight. The viewer’s appetite is usually left unsated. The same is often the case with true crime in print. An author might gather together a number of similar historical crimes and then, based on research, attempt to serve them up as fresh. In other cases, a memoir can turn out to be disappointingly free of detail from actual cases and more focussed on the introspective views of the author. In the latter case, it is the memoir author’s prerogative to avoid sensationalism if they choose to do so, but it might not delivery the blood and guts a hungry reader thirsts for. Pat Marry’s The Making of a Detective - A Garda's Story of Investigating Some of Ireland's Most Notorious Crimes is a rare book in that it delivers unique insight, juicy true crime case discussion and enough life history to bring the author’s experience and character to the fore.

What often struck me when reading The Making of a Detective was how well it is written. The pace and depth of content are well-balanced. Marry does seem a bit of a strange and quirky character. I can imagine most of the GardaĆ­ who worked with him during his thirty year policing career in Ireland would have polarised opinions about him. Methodical, determined, analytical, a constant learner. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he has OCD or similar. The man’s portrait is very effectively painted.

A frequent problem with true crime books is repetition. The TV series are terrible in this respect, assuming their viewers have such a short span of attention that there must be a recap after each ad break. Other true crime / crime sector memoir books I have read often cause me to flick back through the pages, trying to substantiate an apparent contradiction, to find where else the story has been half-told in an earlier chapter. The Making of a Detective avoids this. In my opinion, this is because Marry used a very skilled ghost writer to pen his book. He even goes so far as to thank and name her, Rachel Pierce, in the Acknowledgements. Even stranger, the Acknowledgments at the end of the book, a section which I usually skim or ignore, is interesting for its content as a standalone chapter.

The Making of a Detective has a strong structure, each chapter dealing with a different perspective on crime. Marry talks about The Dead Body Effect, A Disarming Killer, The devil is in the Detail and so on. These would make good titles for different episodes of a TV series. He reveals fascinating detail of police procedures, advances in forensics, the psychology of crime, and other matters, always referenced to real life cases in Ireland. Most of these cases are murders and Marry has had close involvement with many high profile Irish murder cases, which obviously helps. The reader is left with an impression that Marry is an effective detective who, once on the trail of a perpetrator, is likely to get his wo/man.

As a crime author living in Ireland, the real reason I chose this book was in the hope of gaining further insight of Irish crime detection procedural matters. The Making of a Detective didn’t disappoint on this count either. Marry’s career has brought him from the pre-DNA wilderness years to a current forensic environment which is highly hostile to the perpetrator. If the authorities have a suspect in the frame then it is increasingly difficult for them not to have left incriminating evidence.

If I have one criticism of this book, it is the lack of an index. I know it’s not a text book but there are so many interesting and useful references to aspects of crime that I wish I had labelled the pages while reading. So off I go now, to re-read The Making of a Detective.

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