Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Deadfast by Mark McCann

This is a book I've been meaning to read for a very long time. I saw the first few chapters back in 2010. Mark introduced himself at the Requiems for the Departed launch and asked if he could send some of his writing my way. He seemed like a decent bloke and I had a beer buzz on, so I said, "Go for it, mate," or something similar. I read the first chapters in early draft form, offered some advice and left him to it. In the intervening years, Mark McCann has become a force to be reckoned with. He's now best known as the Bad Man, founder of the geek-tastic mega-site Bad Haven, but is also moonlighting as a Norn Iron horror hack, following in the big footsteps that Wayne Simmons has laid out over the last few years. You'll learn more about the Bad Man if and when he agrees to do a Q&A. In the meantime, this post is meant to be about his first novel.

Deadfast appeals most directly to the part of me that penned Fireproof. But I think McCann pushed the premise further than I managed. Read that as, if you liked Fireproof, you'll love Deadfast. It's a supernatural-crime fiction combo set in Belfast as narrated by an 'odd job' man with a penchant for vampire slaying by the name of Terry Fennell. If Joss Whedon were to set a Buffy spin-off in the wee big city of Belfast, he'd be hard-pressed to top Deadfast. In Terry Fennell, McCann invokes the spirit of Dashiell Hammett's Spade, possesses Bateman's Dan Starkey and sets him loose on the undead underbelly of Ulster.

Upon mentioning the Bateman, I feel it necessary to point something out. My keen investigative eye spotted that Deadfast's cover unabashedly imitates those of the latest Bateman books, but that seems fair enough. I don't know for sure, but if McCann isn't a Bateman fan, I'll be very surprised, so I'm counting the similarity as an homage to one of his influences. Of course, the Bateman-esque, smart-alecy black humour that permeates the novel could simply be McCann's default setting.

For the more nitpicky among you (and I lump myself into that category), you should know that this is a self-published title and McCann hasn't quite smoothed out all the rough edges of his writing style, but what I read was a huge improvement on my first introduction to his work. He's working hard at his craft and will only get better. And let me be clear, bar some minor typos and a bunch of missing commas, Deadfast is pretty close to professional level. Close enough for me to recommend it, whatever that may be worth to you.

If you're looking for Northern Irish crime fiction with a supernatural flavour, look no further than Deadfast. And if you like it, guess what... a sequel's already available! Looks like it features The Saint more heavily. I could write another paragraph about why that's exciting, but you could figure it out yourself by reading either novel, I'm sure. Also, as you can plainly see on McCann's Amazon page, a shorter work is available that looks like it spends more time with Mister Malawkus, Fennell's raucous tomcat pal. I'm more of a dog person myself, but I'm likely to give this one a go in the near future anyway.

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