by Joey Phoenix
Content Warnings: Sexual Assault, Murder, Alcohol Abuse
Detective Eddie Devlin is about to be relieved of his duty by the Revere Police Department. A year ago, he shot the killer of a woman in the marsh but the man’s body disappeared from the crime scene. Eddie soon became a suspect, then a person of interest, and finally a casualty of the ongoing investigation.
Kevin Carey’s (he/him) Murder in the Marsh (Darkstroke, 2020) centers on Revere, 1980. The stench of cigarette smoke and cheap beer coat pages filled with characters and places that Boston was built on: greasy dives, immigrant communities, and dirty back alley dealings. It’s the world of Eddie Coyle and Whitey Bulger, a grimy city where the police and the mob are in each other’s pockets and justice has a way of working itself out in the marsh.
You might be tempted to think that with Murder on the Marsh, Carey has written a book about cops in a year when cops are a not-so-positive hot button topic. But what Carey has really done with this work is write about liminal spaces, monsters who walk among us, and a side of Boston – one where law enforcement can’t always be trusted – that still haunts it today.
It happened when you grew up near the beach: people got stabbed, people disappeared, and eventually, people forgot about it.Kevin Carey, Murder in the Marsh
The weekend before I interviewed Carey for this piece I found myself in the noted Rumney Marsh Reservation off Route 1. This was, eerily, just a coincidence. I was looking for a walk through a nature area, and with my initial destination closed off for the day, I chose the first place I found on Google Maps and drove over.
The gravel parking lot was flooded, the pathway to the trail was too, but I had worn muck boots and wasn’t bothered. It was a ripe and windy October afternoon and the trails were mostly abandoned except for the random dog/human combination and a old townie openly drinking a Gansett and shouting “How ‘ah ‘ya?’ as I passed by, He wasn’t wearing a mask.
It was a peaceful place, the shorebirds hopped up and down in the water and the phragmites gently swayed in the wind along the trails. I have discovered in the weeks since visiting that this place is known for coyote activity and for human remains occasionally showing up in low tides.
I might go back sometime.
So it was no surprise to me that Kevin Carey chose this as the site for his face-paced, thrilling new novel which features a detective who keeps falling off the wagon and finding himself tracing old nightmares down to the marsh.
“When I was a kid, we used to hear stories about the mob hits dumping bodies in the marsh behind the Northgate Plaza,” Carey said, “And I suppose a lot of it kind of took off as folklore, but I think there’s probably truth in it too.”
Although the book could have been a difficult sell this year with publishers being less than willing to publish books about “cops with drinking problems,” fortunately for Carey, and for readers who enjoy neo-noir, the book was picked up by UK-based Darkstroke Books, a publishing company which focuses on crime fiction, thrillers and dystopian, sci-fi and horror – all with a dark undertone.
“I originally planned that there was going to be this supernatural element to it and and in some ways, I guess, maybe some of that still exists,” he explained. “But [Murder] is more grounded in a human beast than a supernatural beast.”
Which is, arguably, far scarier.
In Murder in the Marsh, off-duty Detective Eddie Devlin stumbles upon a crime scene in progress and shoots the man responsible for just murdering Michelle Letti. In a bizarre turn of events, the man he shot gets away, leading to a domino effect of events, including the rise of “The Cronus Killer,” that leave readers biting the corner of their thumbs and trusting no one.
The novel also comes packed with a cast of characters – many of them modeled off people Carey met or heard about from his dad when he was a kid – one would expect from neo-noir: a the flawed and vigilante-esque protagonist with a drinking problem, dirty cops, thugs in police officers’ pockets, the loyal friend, and the longsuffering love interest.
“I knew that the character I chose [in Eddie] had to be flawed enough to, to really kind of let this incident run his life,” said Carey, “someone who was really human.”
But although these tropes may seem familiar, and this familiarity is comforting in a double gut punch pandemic and election year where everything is predominately unfamiliar, it’s in the moments in between quick-paced action that Carey truly shines.
Scenes at the racetrack or a dive called Dana’s Place, between Eddie and his friend Dana – a 300lb bookie and man about town who always “knows a guy,” show a sincere friendship between two men who understand, and at times appreciate, the darkest sides of each other.
Similarly, moments between Eddie and Gwen, a wheelchair-bound social justice warrior and rape survivor who runs a rape clinic for other survivors of sexual violence, show the detective’s broken, human side. The two of them spend regular time together watching old films or with Gwen helping Eddie sort out the nightmares in his brain, reminding him of the mantra “the demon is dead,” when things become too much to bear.
Carey’s poetic nature also comes out in striking moments – in the philosophical “Why give someone a view of your darkest places?” as Eddie asks himself while planning to tell Gwen the full truth, or in the macabre, lyrical depictions of bodies in many states of decomposition. These descriptive vignettes, while gristly, are some of the most beautiful paragraphs of the entire work.
With Murder in the Marsh, Carey examines 1980 just north of Boston with pinpoint accuracy, taking readers along for a ride that’s rusted over and creaky, a merry go-round in a playground not checked for safety protocols in 30 years. It’s gruesome at points, full of twists, but also manages to be a lot of fun. Although, after reading it, you might find yourself keeping a closer watch on the shadows flashing across your rearview mirror and avoiding marshes after dusk.
Joey Phoenix (they/them)b is the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore, the Digital Content Manager for North Shore Pride, and a voracious reader of things with words. You can follow them on twitter @jphoenixmedia, but what they really love is when you send them story ideas and book recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org
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