Winston Churchill once joked that the United States and the United Kingdom were two great nations separated by a common language. Adrian McKinty is Irish, so I hope he’s not offended by the comparison, but wading through some of the trans-Atlantic terminology is all that keeps his new book, THE DEAD YARD, from reading as effortlessly as watching a movie.
Be grateful that THE DEAD YARD isn’t a movie, at least not yet. It has all the makings of a good one, but would still be best enjoyed as a novel. McKinty’s seemingly effortless prose moves your eye through the story with the ease and fluidity of a Rolls. Protagonist Michael Forsythe takes a hellacious beating through much of this book, and can’t catch a break, yet manages to observe most of what goes on with enough detachment to keep things from being ponderous without going for the big laugh.
Forsythe has a tough life. Taking out an entire Irish mob got him a seat in the federal Witness Protection Program. He’s still concerned enough about the open contract on his head to choose to vacation in the Canary Islands, where he’s minding his own business when he gets caught up in a soccer riot and arrested by Spanish police. British MI6 can spring him, but they have a small favour to ask: infiltrate a splinter cell of the IRA in the States before it can ruin the truce arranged by Tony Blair’s new government in the late Nineties.
Forsythe is a likeable anti-hero, in his own repulsive way, always looking for an angle, even if he will eventually do the right thing. The characters around him are a well-rounded and absorbing lot, even the psychos. Gerry McCaghan came to America and re-invented himself as a renaissance man who now owns a construction company and spouts Latin at every opportunity (appropriateness is optional) to impress his new, much younger wife. He doesn’t need to; she loves him to death, ignoring his tolerance for violence with her own 21st century version of radical chic. Touched McGuigan is so crazy people can call him ‘Touched’ to his face and he doesn’t mind. Gerry’s daughter Kit wants to follow in the old man’s footsteps but sometimes lacks the fortitude. Then again, sometimes she doesn’t. She’s only nineteen, and McKinty keeps her as confusing and confounding to Forsythe and the reader as her circumstances must seem to herself.
McKinty dresses his tale in enough historical perspective to keep things grounded. His MI6 and FBI agents are twisted enough to be believable without becoming caricatures, dedicated without being corny. He knows his players’ strengths and uses them in proper proportions to balance the story, keeping the reader in the air as much as Forsythe is about how straight his handlers are being with him and how dangerous Gerry’s crew might be until the story starts hurtling downward into its violent ending.
The ending is, in its way, the weakest part of THE DEAD YARD. It’s well written and exciting, but asks a bit much of Forsythe. His suffering reaches Gibsonian Passion of the Christ levels, yet he still has enough in the tank to just about saw off a baddies’ head with a piece of broken Coke bottle. A hard man who is no stranger to violence through most of the book, by the end he is the Terminator with a prosthetic foot, hopping around to wreak his vengeance on those who deserve it, which by that time is pretty much everyone in the area.
Be not deterred; by then McKinty has earned his indulgence. THE DEAD YARD is a ripping good yarn, told with an aplomb that often disguises the quality of the writing. McKinty is a talent, and savvy enough to plant the seeds of at least one more sequel between the lines of the current instalment. (THE DEAD YARD is the second Michael Forsythe book, McKinty’s third.) McKinty makes three kick-ass Irish mystery writers I’ve discovered for myself in less than a year (John Connolly and Declan Hughes are the others). Me auld grandda Dougherty would be proud. – Dana King
This review first appeared at the New Mystery Reader
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.