Death of a Lesser Man sees Inspector Eric Stride, the detective hero of Undertow and The Rossiter File, return to his stomping grounds in postwar Newfoundland. This time around, Stride is tasked to look into the murder of Harrison Rose, a veteran of the Second World War and businessman of some renown. In other words, not exactly the type of guy you’d expect to find shot dead.
“But memories can be long,” Stride is told, “and for those who survived that war, there’s a lot to remember.” Indeed, as Stride discovers in methodical if plodding fashion, the motive for Stride’s murder stems from his wartime experience, demonstrating how past actions and the horrors of industrialized killing can torment participants long after combat has ended.
What ought to be a rich setting is anything of the sort here, depicted instead in grey, pedestrian tones. The same greyness pervades Curran’s prose, which tries for economy but too often resorts to needless repetition. Characters point out over and over again that Rose was shot three times but only two shots were heard. It’s a vital point, but this regular reminder flattens the reader with the force of a sledgehammer.
Stride has potential as a character – he deviates enough from the strong, silent stereotype to anguish over his relationship with his married love interest, Dianne. But in the final analysis, even Curran seems to know the score. “You’ll understand that’s not an original thought,” town coroner Thomas Butcher says in the novel’s closing lines. “I didn’t think it was,” Stride replies. “I’m almost certain I’ve heard it before.” Mystery readers could say something similar about this novel.