The concluding part of Adrian McKinty’s ‘Dead’ trilogy – following on from DEAD I WELL MAY BE (2003) and THE DEAD YARD (2006) – finds his series protagonist, the Belfast-born Michael Forsythe, back in Ireland for the first time since he left Ireland in 1991. In the first novel, a betrayed Forsythe destroyed the Bronx-based gang of Darkey White in a succession of revenge killings; in the second, while hiding out on a FBI witness protection programme, he infiltrated a U.S.-based crew of rogue Republican paramilitaries with the same net result.
Compelling thrillers written in a hard-bitten, muscular style, the novels are given an unconventional twist by virtue of Forsythe’s unusually perceptive insights. A seemingly indestructible former British soldier, the complex and well-read character is as likely to quote Euripides, Melville or James Joyce as he is to cold-bloodedly garrotte anyone who gets in his way. A borderline sociopath, he is a fascinating blend of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley.
In THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD, Forsythe responds to a call from Bridget, his ex-lover and the former girlfriend of Darkey White, who requests his presence in Belfast to help her find her abducted daughter. Arriving in Dublin on June 16 – Bloomsday, honouring the hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses – Michael has 24 hours to find Bridget’s daughter and thus cancel his debt of blood or face the fatal consequences.
McKinty is a rare writer, one who can combine the often limiting staccato rhythms of crime fiction with a lyrical flair for language. Forsythe is brusque and blunt in his public exchanges, lethal when trapped in a tight spot (of which there are many in this furiously paced tale, which loosely follows the path laid down by both Leopold Bloom and Odysseus), and yet he is possessed of a poet’s soul during his frequent interior monologues. The violence is etched into the page, as if stamped there by the force of its authenticity, but McKinty never forgets that his first priority is to entertain, and he leavens the bleakness with flashes of mordant humour.
It’s not a perfect novel by any means. McKinty, born and raised in Northern Ireland but living the U.S. for over a decade, has Forsythe rediscovering post-Celtic Tiger Dublin through an exile’s eyes, but even so there are minor omissions and distracting details. It’s possible, for example, that a young Trinity student from Kerry might refer to her mobile phone as ‘my cell’, but it’s unlikely nonetheless. And while there is no faulting the author’s ambition in his attempt to splice the post-Troubles Irish crime novel to the great literary text of the 20th century, the reader travels more in hope than anticipation that he will succeed.
That he fails in this regard is perhaps inevitable but there is no denying that even in his failure McKinty has made an strong contribution to the fertile ground that lies between populist genre writing and esoteric literary fiction. Indeed, in the very last line, with his downbeat, tongue-in-cheek homage to Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, it becomes clear that McKinty is self-deprecatingly aware of both the necessity and the impossibility of aspiring to emulate the very best a novel can be: Her throat was hoarse from crying and she couldn’t speak, but her head bobbed the affirmative, and finally, in that husky, tired New York whisper, she said simply: “Yes.” – Declan Burke
This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post
“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.