Book Review : Iain Ryan - Drainland (2016)
Drainland is the second novel from everybody's new favorite James Ellroy worshiper Iain Ryan and somewhat a sequel to his debut Four Days, published by Broken River Books in 2015. Only, Drainland is where Iain Ryan cruises past his Ellroy obsession and ventures into a territory of paranoia, villainy and moral bankruptcy that is entirely his own and it's as intoxicating as you can imagine. I've always had this fascination for crooked cops novels because of how society collapses whenever cops get at each other's throats but Drainland is its own thing. It's in a league of its own of professional, ethical and emotional corruption. Iain Ryan's books are a lot of fun and Drainland indulges in violence, excess and poor life choices with an abandon I've never really experienced before.
So, Drainland is set 20 years after the events of Four Days. Detective Laura Romano is caught in a sting operation and thrown under the bus by her boyfriend Will, who's keeping books for a local bikers gang. Strung out, liquored up and humiliated, Romano is exiled to Turnell Island (better known as Tunnel Island by the locals) to be forgotten and hopefully fade out of existence like Four Days' protagonist Jim Harris before her. Unfortunately for the brass, Detective Romano is handed a chance at redemption when the son of a local senator and his girlfriend and found dead in a Tunnel Island hotel. She seems to simply have OD'ed but his demise has been considerably more brutal: Thomas Bachelard was shot AND raped, probably in that order. Brace yourselves, the resort island of the damned has claimed two more victims!
The character of detective Laura Romano in Drainland explores an antediluvian and generally played out theme: redemption. It's not the WHAT that makes Iain Ryan's novel interesting though, it's the HOW. His take on redemption couldn't be any more refreshing. Detective Romano obviously wants out of the hellhole that is Tunnel Island, but she also wants to prove to herself she's not as rotten as the rest of the system. Redemption is not just a concept in Drainland, it's a personal stake. Iain Ryan gave this old theme a new flavor by denying the reader the chance to blame anybody for Laura's downfall as a cop. It's never clear what she exactly did to be disgraced and the mysterious boyfriend Will, who threw her under the bus, is merely a background character in the novel. Detective Romano is facing a tremendous enemy in a corrupt system, but she's not idealistic enough to want to overthrow it. She wants to save her soul first and foremost. That made her interesting to me.
I loved Drainland almost as much as I loved Iain Ryan debut novel Four Days, which I happened to really love. The only thing about it that bugged me is that it's a little overambitious. Drainland is almost twice as long as its predecessor and while there IS enough material for a longer novel, the last third was kind of unnecessary. The mystery of Thomas Bachelard and Sophie Marr's deaths is solved two-thirds into Drainland. I understand what Iain Ryan tried to do here. The novel shifted from mystery to contemporary western in the final act, which is bold as hell and could've very well worked, but it doesn't. Instead of going out with a bang like Four Days did, Drainland slowly fades out because once the murder is solved, the stakes for detective Laura Romano aren't as pertinent anymore. She has proved to herself she still "got it" and all she's got left to recover is social status and maybe a permanent address outside of Tunnel Island.
I'm being nit-picky with Drainland here. It's a great fucking book and any fans of crooked cop mysteries are going to enjoy the hell out of it. If Four Days could be traced directly back to James Ellroy's influence, Drainland dials it up a notch. Iain Ryan's characters go to pro wrestling levels of villainy and melodrama and I mean that in the most endearing way possible if it makes sense. Drainland reminded me of Greek Tragedies and popular theater: it's not meant to imitate real life as much as it's meant to be provide readers with a satisfying and visceral thrill and it's mission accomplished on that end. Iain Ryan is now a canonical voice in contemporary noir and Drainland is as canonical of a novel as it can get. I'm really excited to see what the future holds for the Australian author. Sky's the limit for him.