Given Wall Street’s current woes, I couldn’t have picked a better time to read THE DARK FIELDS. With the help of the ‘smart drug’ MDT-48, Eddie Spinola goes from being a dysfunctional bottom-feeder to master of the financial universe in just a few months, playing a crucial role in brokering the biggest corporate merger in US history.
Of course, there are side-effects to taking MDT-48, an as-yet unproven experimental drug. Eddie suffers from blackouts, during the course of one he may or may not have assaulted a woman badly enough to put her in a coma. And coming off MDT-48 doesn’t just result in a bad case of cold turkey – it’s lethal.
Told in a deceptively casual conversational style, Alan Glynn’s debut is assured, inventive and polished. Its occasional sci-fi touches are reminiscent of Philip K. Dick or William Gibson, although the depth of cynicism to Glynn’s dystopian vision doesn’t reveal itself fully until the last page. The novel was first published in 2001, but given the events of the last eight years, it can now be read as black farce, chilling prophecy, or a combination of both.
Glynn’s subtle touch extends beyond a deft way with plot and characterisation, however. THE DARK FIELDS swaggers like a crime novel, and it has its fair share of criminals, violent deaths, illicit dealings and rampant paranoia, but the criminality is subservient to the narrative. MDT-48 is not a proscribed substance, for example, so Eddie is not breaking any law by taking it, nor by prospering as a result. And, given his black-outs, and the first-person narration, the reader is never entirely sure as to whether Eddie is responsible for the violent assault that charges the narrative.
Eddie does engage in overtly criminal acts as the story moves towards its climax, but taking these explicit crimes out of the story would by no means render it pointless. Further, there’s a palpable sense of ambition at play here, an application of crime fiction’s tropes to a philosophical end, crystallised when Eddie cuts to the nub of the story: “If human behaviour was all about synapses and serotonin, then where did free will come into the picture? Where did personal responsibility end and brain chemistry begin?”
A beautifully written thriller that is a compelling and at times profound exploration of the human condition, it’s no surprise that THE DARK FIELDS is prefaced with a quote from THE GREAT GATSBY. The novel represents my kind of holy grail, that quality of storytelling that erases the artificially contrived and / or supposed differences between genre and literary writing. Erudite, thoughtful and entertaining, it is a novel to be treasured. – Declan Burke
“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.