A tabloid star is killed in a helicopter crash. Three years later, a young freelance journalist, Jimmy Gilroy, is warned off the story by a political ‘fixer’, who has long been associated with the disgraced ex-taoiseach, Larry Bolger. Meanwhile, a private security contractor goes postal in the Congo whilst escorting an American politician with presidential ambitions, with deadly consequences.
The story’s central spine is Jimmy Gilroy’s investigation of the death of the tabloid star, a young woman who is overly fond of her cocaine, and who bears more than a passing resemblance to Katy French. His original investigation, however, is a thread that, once pulled, begins to unravel an international conspiracy to cover up the murder of another passenger on the helicopter.
This passenger is an Italian man who has threatened to blow the whistle on an American corporation which is mining a very precious metal in the Congo. That American corporation has links, via the American political fixer James Vaughn, to the proposed presidential election campaign of a US senator, JJ Rundle. James Vaughn, in turn, has links to ex-taoiseach Larry Bolger, who was party to a botched property deal in Glynn’s previous novel, WINTERLAND.
Spanning three continents - or four, if we admit the peripheral activities of the Chinese in the Congo - BLOODLAND is a sprawling, labyrinthine thriller which has strong echoes of the classic 1970s paranoid crime thrillers, and particularly movies such as Three Days of the Condor and Chinatown. It explores the legacy of corruption in big business, the West’s fear of China, the role of back room political players and the question of who controls what we know.
Ultimately, Jimmy Conway’s investigations, which take him from Dublin to Italy and on to New York, result in the downfall of the US Senator JJ Rundle and his businessman brother, Clark.
While this appears on the face of it a happy ending, Glynn leaves us in no doubt that even if some of the players on the board will change, the game will remain the same, particularly in terms of the backroom fixers with their hands on the levers of power, such as the Machiavellian James Vaughn.
BLOODLAND isn’t exactly a sequel to WINTERLAND, even if it employs some of the characters that appeared in that novel; it’s obvious, though, that Glynn is returning to some of the themes he touched on in WINTERLAND, and painting them on a broader canvas.
I liked the style and the context, that of the hard-bitten thriller in the paranoid mould. I was very impressed with the scale of Glynn’s ambition, too; I found the scenes set outside of Ireland very vividly drawn, especially those set in the Congo.
I did wonder - as a freelance writer - about the extent of Jimmy Gilroy’s motivation, particularly at the start of the novel. He’s not particularly idealistic, and most freelance journos, especially in these straitened times, would be happy enough to be ‘bought off’ by a plum job, particularly as Jimmy doesn’t have any real inkling of the scale of the cover-up when he is first approached by the political fixer and warned off.
Overall, I very much liked the book, and warmly recommend it. Apparently it’s the second in a loose ‘trilogy’, and I’ll be first in the queue when the third instalment appears. - Declan Burke
Alan Glynn’s BLOODLAND has been short-listed for the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award in the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards. To vote for it, clickety-click here …
“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.