Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Through Falling Glass, Darkly

It’s a personal thing, but reading an Adrian McKinty novel depresses the hell out of me these days. The latest offering, which I’m getting to a little late, is FALLING GLASS, which I read on holidays a couple of weeks ago. It’s a story about Killian, an enforcer and debt collector who takes on a well-paying job to find Rachel, the former wife of a wealthy Northern Ireland businessman, who has absconded with his two children. Naturally, things do not go swimmingly for Killian, in part because the woman has very good reasons for going on the run, but also because another man, a Russian veteran of the Chechen conflict, is also tracking her down. What gives the novel its heft, and sets it apart from a conventional chase-and-shoot narrative, is the fact that Killian is of Pavee origin, Pavees being an indigenous Irish minority also known as tinkers, itinerants and Travellers. They are not, Killian tells us, gypsies; the Pavee are a branch of the European Roma, and a people whose roots are buried deep in Irish history, despite their nomadic way of life.
  McKinty is a very fine writer, as many have pointed out before (he is currently on the longlist for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for his previous offering, FIFTY GRAND), and he invests his hardboiled prose with a muscular poetry that lends itself to deliciously black humour (Chapter Six opens with the memorable line, “The place stank of dead Mexicans and no one was even dead yet.” (pg 91)). All of which would have made for an excellent crime novel, and the Pavee’s nomadic lifestyle provides a neat backdrop for Killian’s peripatetic wanderings; but as always with McKinty, there’s more: his novels are as much novels of ideas as they are page-turning thrillers, and here he provides a rare insight into the world of the Pavee, its traditions, mythologies and language. Moreover, Killian is a man striving to settle down, to leave behind both the wanderings of the Pavee and the world of crime. To this end he is currently studying at an Ulster university, studying architecture to be precise, a perverse choice for a man who was reared on the promise of the open road:
This is why we shrink from people. We Pavee. Why we don’t want their talk. Their hypocrisy and lies. We don’t want them breathing near us. Humans were never meant to be this close to one another. We weren’t meant to be in buildings. Architecture is based on a gigantic lie. Cities. We huddle for security, closer and closer until, like now, we are on top of one another. Stuck in these glass and steel and brick structures with all these other confused, unhappy people. (pg 206)
  Neatly juxtaposing Killian’s pursuit of Rachel with his internal journey towards some kind of rapprochement between his conflicting instincts, building tension all the while, FALLING GLASS is easily one of the finest novels of the year to date. That in itself is depressing, because as a writer, reading a great novel always serves to remind you of how far you have to travel yourself; but what’s truly depressing is that McKinty, despite being something of a byword for quality and class among a select group of aficionados, is nowhere as well known as most of his peers on the Theakston’s list, for example. I’ve long maintained that the fact that McKinty isn’t as recognisable a name, nor as bestselling, as the likes of Lee Child, Val McDermid or Mark Billingham, say, is proof positive that the current model of publishing is a joke, and not a particularly funny one.
  All of which aside, and taking it on its own merits, FALLING GLASS is a superb crime novel with a fascinating backdrop, the kind of page-turner that makes you want to stay your hand even as it reaches to turn the page. It should be Adrian McKinty’s break-out novel; but then, all of his novels should have been break-out novels. It’s a variation on the theme of no good deed goes unpunished, certainly, but exactly what is it about a body of work of consistent excellence that deserves the cold shoulder from the reading world at large?