Once in a while you come across a book that delivers a blow to the guts, and very occasionally a kick to the arse as well. Gene Kerrigan’s LITTLE CRIMINALS is such a book.
The story revolves around a gang of Dublin low-lives led by Frankie Crowe. Frankie, loving father, estranged husband and second division crim, has had enough of playing in the lower leagues. He’s served his apprenticeship and taken his share of licks in the service of others. Crowe, the hard-nosed leader, dominant, assertive and cruel, recruits Brendan, Dolly and Martin to pull the job off. With a lot of ambition, a ruthless streak and a plan, he’s gonna ride the Celtic Tiger get what he’s due and move up in the world.
Justin Kennedy has some of what Frankie wants – a loving wife, an understanding girlfriend, a successful career with the big house and the bank balance to suit. A man sure of his place in the world and with a bright future ahead of Brioni suits and his double chin featuring in the society pages of the papers at the latest Dublin charity fundraiser. He’s someone who is definitely on the up and up, but Justin may come to regret hitting Ireland’s ‘Top Fifty’ rich list …
LITTLE CRIMINALS tells the story of when their paths cross. Frankie, with his crew and his plan for a kidnap, with or without the approval of Dublin’s top gangster, enters Justin’s life and things will never be the same for either or the others dragged into the maelstrom. There’s an inevitability, as the kidnap unfolds, that few will emerge unscathed or damaged, and Kerrigan conveys the pain convincingly and makes you care.
The story unfolds at pace and the author’s skilful storytelling had me hooked. I’ve rarely read a book that has me turning the pages to reach the conclusion swiftly, whilst at the same time regretting the approach of the last page.
One of the most enjoyable facets was the depth Kerrigan lent to the minor players that populate the tale, no Lowry-like sketching here. One such character, Sean Willie Costello, an object of ridicule in the early part of the book, stayed in my memory long after I’d finished the final page. Sean, a simple kindly man more at home in the Ireland of yesteryear, reminds us of what we’re losing as Ireland hurtles at full-speed to embrace the economic boom and satisfy the needs of the want-it-now generation.
I’m led to believe that Kerrigan’s second fictional offering THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR is even more enjoyable. I’ll be greatly surprised but highly delighted if he has managed to raise the level of the bar any higher than this superb modern classic. Can’t wait to find out, though. – Colman Keane
“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.