Thursday, 17 July 2008

A Wee Review - The Dead Yard by Adrian McKinty


The Dead Yard is the second of Adrian McKinty’s ‘Dead’ trilogy featuring Michael Forsythe, and is bookended by Dead I Well May Be and The Bloomsday Dead. The American release of The Dead Yard was picked as one of the twelve best novels of 2006 by US Publishers Weekly. Not the best crime novel. The best novel! And the audiobook version won audiobook of the year. Inside information suggests that it didn’t sell incredibly well in the UK by comparison, and this reader has some difficulty understanding why.

The Dead Yard sees the hard-as-coffin-nails protagonist, Michael Forsythe’s, return to action. For five years, since his violent deeds in Dead I Well May Be, he has lain low in the Witness Protection Programme. Unfortunately, his itchy (ahem) foot takes him to Tenerife, and because trouble follows him like ‘sharks trailing a slave ship’, he finds himself right in the middle of an Irish vs. English football riot. He does what he can to keep out of it, but gets scooped by the authorities. He’s in a lot of trouble. Especially since he’s wanted in Mexico for drug trafficking and escaping a Mexican prison. In the face of ten years jail time and then extradition to Mexico, when an offer is extended by the English government he really has no choice. In exchange for his guaranteed freedom he agrees to go under cover and infiltrate an IRA sleeper cell in New England, America. Bad enough, but don’t forget to factor in that the Irish Mob in New York has a price on his head. Can it get worse? Well, yeah. This is Michael Forsythe we’re talking about. It’s about to get deadly.

I happened to read this book slightly out of sequence with the other two Forsythe books. The Dead Yard, however, is certainly the more standalone of the trilogy. There are some hints of what is to come in The Bloomsday Dead, but no spoilers. Just a book full of shit-hot writing. McKinty’s prose is a thing of beauty. Awe and envy-inspiring poetry. And then, next to this beautiful use of language, McKinty’s protagonist and subject matter provide you with enough ugly to spin the yin-yang symbol out of orbit. Michael Forsythe imagines himself as Death’s apprentice more than once in this gripping tale, but I think he’s downplaying his status. The boy is Death with a limp. He’s a literate, scary, emotional, violent, wonderful, horrible enigma of a thug. A Belfast protagonist to be proud and ashamed of. A fascinating bastard. I’m a little depressed that I’ve read the whole trilogy and that McKinty has put an end to the Forsythe series. But there’s a logic behind the author’s decision. One more dance with the Grim Reaper and readers might yell, ‘Oh, come on!’ and click off. There are only so many times you can expect Forsythe to get through the fug of violence that follows him around.

So, here I am, trying to dream up a criticism of The Dead Yard to balance this review out a little. But I’ve come up blank. Maybe because it was the most recent read, but this could my favourite of the ‘Dead’ trilogy. Which begs the question once again, why is The Dead Yard the least popular of the three Forsythe books in the UK?

I’ll speculate a little.

Maybe it’s because this is McKinty’s ‘Troubles’ book. Yes, it plays out in America, but this story is set on the verge of the IRA’s 1997 ceasefire, just before the Good Friday Agreement. A shaky peace deal is on the horizon. The English government wants to stamp out a maverick group, known as The Sons of Cuchulain, before they destroy the budding Peace Process. We have seen a hell of a lot of work based on the ‘Troubles’. Ireland and the UK are coming down with IRA stories. Some are better than others, and in this case, much better, but at the end of the day, people are looking for new settings and themes. America, however, still has quite an interest in this kind of thing, especially among the Irish-American communities. With the luxury of distance, they maybe have a romantic idea of the struggle and are open to more from this sub-genre. And McKinty has given it to them in spades.

My conclusion; if you’re going to read one more work of fiction based on the ‘Troubles’, make it The Dead Yard by Adrian McKinty. It’s a Belfast/Boston blinder.

36 comments:

adrian mckinty said...

good on yer mate

the cheque's in the post

adrian mckinty said...

wait a minute, I didnt send that as a public comment did I?

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Yikes, now you've done it! The jig is up. Must have cost you a fortune too, what with reviews like this and this and this scattered about the blogosphere. You must be ragin'.

gb

Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm trying to do the written equivalent of "La-la-la, I can't HEAR YOU!" because I'm a chapter into the first of the Forsythe books, and I want to avoid spoilers. But it's a hell of a chapter.

Very cool to see a Northern Irishman write "Good on yer, mate." Now I want to get one of my Aussie mates to say, "Shite."

By the way, I noticed an Indian blogger use crikey in a comment. I thought this was just wonderful. Until that moment, I'd only ever seen the word in irish crime novels.
==============
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - I do my best to avoid spoilers as they're a pet hate of mine, so hopefully you'll be able to read any of my reviews and still get the full impact of the book.

Enjoy Dead I Well May Be. Some great stuff in there. Heart-wrenching in places, so keep the kleenex at hand.

Shite's quite a popular word 'round these parts too. Crikey's a good 'un though. Don't think I've ever used that one myself.

gb

Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, plot spoilers are for lesser folks, of course, but I just thought I might like to figure things out for myself on thses books, and then join the discussion once I've read at least one of them.

I was pleased when looking up crikey to find criminy listed as a synonym.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I hope this desnt ruin it for you but Bridget's really a man.

Also Rosebud's the name of the sled and Bruce Willis is a ghost.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, right. I suppose you’ll also say that Anthony Perkins’ mother is dead in Psycho.

===================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dave said...

McKinty's in Oz? Me too. This book is great. I read it last year. I don't know how I can say this without it being a spoiler but the last few chapters are quite "intense" maybe there should be some kind of warning.

Declan Burke said...

Maybe because it's the first one I read, but I'm still holding a candle for DEAD I WELL MAY BE ... Cormac McCarthy before Cormac McCarthy started writing crime novels, basically. Cheers, Dec

Gerard Brennan said...

Dave (Todd, I'm guessing?) I don't think the comment qualifies as a spoiler, but you're absolutely right.

Dec - It takes different strokes to move the world. I did love DIWMB for its insight into the NY Irish Mob, it's excellent twists and more, but I just loved the suspense in The Dead Yard. Masterful stuff.

gb

Seandra said...

Interesting review but why do you call it the Dead Trilogy? Isn't it a series?

Gerard Brennan said...

Hi Seandra

Thanks for stopping by.

There are, and according to Mr McKinty, will only be, three books in the Michael Forsythe series.

Cheers

Gerard

Peter Rozovsky said...

I just finished Dead I Well May Be last night. I think I'll very much want to read the next two in series order.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - Great stuff! As you well know, McKinty very much has the CSNI seal of approval. Bet you'll love the next two parts.

gb

seandra said...

I just ordered Lucy's book from Amazon, so your interview has helped her sell at least one book :) !!!

I am so glad I found this web site I wish it was on TV so more people could find out about this stuff. I had no clue!

I am sorry to hear about the end of Michael Forsythe. It looks like you know Adrian McKinty? Did you go to school with him? Can you ask him to write one more Forsythe just to clear up all the loose ends? I know he probably wants to write about different characters but 1 more book would not be that hard. (I think!)

Thank you for all the questions about how to break into writing that you have asked. Very good advice.

Thanks again.

Gerard Brennan said...

Seandra - The system works! Thanks for letting me know. I don't think you'll regret the Lucy Caldwell purchase. I'm closing in on the denouement, and I'm still very much hooked in. Also, my wife just finished reading her play, Leaves, which she very much enjoyed.

Unfortunately, I've only met Adrian in person the once (at a recent signing), but he's a top bloke and I've emailed him a number of times before and since. He's very generous with his time and writing advice. But enough about that. Don't want him developing an ego!

Have you read his blog, btw? (Click here, if not.) You could leave a comment and ask him directly. I'd love to see another one myself, though I do think there's a lot to be said for his reasons to leave it at three. I heard a rumour that there's a Forsythe short story or two about, though.

And you're interested in writing, yourself? Glad the interviews have given you food for thought in that regard.

Cheers

gb

seandra said...

Gerard,

I went over there and Adrian already responded which was cool though he did agree with you that there will be no more books!!!

Thank you again for your site. If I ever get a blog I would like it to be just like this one, with lots of links to all my fav writers etc. It seems like a very cool job. ;)

And I like Adrian and the boys but can you get more female writers too?

Thanks again.

Seandra

Gerard Brennan said...

Seandra - Thanks again for your kind words.

I'm working on upping the female presence on the site. I'll do my best for you.

In the meantime, check out Aifric Campbell's CSNI interview and the review of her debut novel.

She's a brilliant writer too.

gb

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Only criticism I can think of is that Michael recovers the power of speech a bit quickly in one scene considering what he's been through, though perhaps a time lapse was intended.

In any case, yep, I liked this one a bit better than I liked the first, and you know how much I liked the first. Nice that McKinty avoids sentimentality about the Troubles, to say the least. Nice also that he sets a book in Massachusetts among Irish immigrants and avoids the easy settings.

I feel a small, if special, tie to the book on two fronts: I lived in Boston for 12 years, and I am an Anglophone native of Quebec, so I rolled my eyes, along with Forsythe/McKinty, at the facile, naive, dangerous, sentimental shite about the occupying cultures.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - Great stuff. Glad you enjoyed it. You're fairly burning through the Forsythe stuff! You got the Bloomsday Dead?

Aye, McKinty really has no time for the sentimentality crap, hasn't he. I think it's one of his character's strongest points.

gb

adrian mckinty said...

Merci beaucoup mes braves! Cher Peter les quebecois et les italiens? Mais permettez mois, a dire, vive le quebec, vive le quebec libre!. . . Rire! (Aussi, oh mon General, ou sont les neiges d'antan?)

Thanks guys,

A...

Peter Rozovsky said...

Ce monsieur McKinty, prend t-il le piss?
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Gerard Brennan said...

Hmmmm. Crime Scene Francais...?

Weird but impressive. Show-offs!

Of course, Babel Fish couldn't help me at all! You're both talking gibberish according to their translation programme.

gb

adrian mckinty said...

un peu

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