Friday 28 March 2008

A Wee review - Murphy's Law by Colin Bateman

Here's something slightly different for you. I thought it'd be interesting to get an English insight into a Northern Irish crime story. So I asked my good mate Mike Stone if he'd write a few reviews for me. Here's the first of them. He's got an interesting thought or two on Murphy's Law by Colin Bateman.


“Detective Martin Murphy is undercover – and over here. The man loves the music – but it makes him think too much. He loves the drink – and it dulls everything.

What he really wants is to get back on the streets, doing what he does best. Fighting crime. But his medical file (already thick and growing fast) says he should be retired. Then his boss, Murdoch (one realistic eye on retirement, the other fantastically set on late-life promotion), offers him one final chance: to infiltrate a gang of diamond thieves. They are tough, violent and ruthless. And Murphy will fit in perfectly.”

From the paperback of Murphy’s Law:

My previous foray into the world of Bateman was Divorcing Jack, and while I thought it was good, it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy more books featuring the international man of inaction. Perhaps it was because the first Dan Starkey novel was too steeped in sectarian violence for my liking, or the Irish politics made it less accessible to an Englishman.


However, the same cannot be said of Murphy’s Law: there’s violence aplenty, but it’s of the non-political, non-religious kind. So that’s all right, then. And in Marty Murphy we have a main character that is charming, witty and dangerous. A man all but destroyed by the murder of his young son and the ensuing collapse of his marriage, Murphy still possesses almost Holmesian powers of observation, can get a karaoke night swinging and deliver brilliant one-liners at the drop of a hat, even when there’s a gun barrel pressed to his head. He is a character with complex issues, but Bateman renders him so humanely we have no problem identifying with him.

Indeed, Bateman creates a sense of identity for all the supporting cast of Murphy’s Law -- the thieves, the cops, the priest, the bar manager -- without wasting words on tedious detail. That’s no mean trick and one I appreciated.

And the writing, ah, the writing is never less than superb. Take this simple yet effective line (I could have chosen any one of hundreds), where Murphy surprises his ex-wife at work:­ He says, “Lianne,” and she jumps. There’s an oh, you scared me look, a hint of warmth, then she remembers and the thunder mask descends. Even if we didn’t know anything about the Murphys, we could divine their past-relationship from this one line. Beautiful. Oh yes, and the whole book is written like that, in present tense. Some people don’t like it, arguing that present tense is best reserved for short fiction. And some folks dislike the sudden changes of POV, and I agree that head-swapping can lead to confusion at times. But hey, life’s too short to nitpick, and I have another Murphy book to read, Murphy’s Revenge.

And then doubtless I’ll return to Dan Starkey, to see if I missed something first time round. After this book, I’m thinking I must have.

Michael Stone

Michael Stone was born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since losing most of his eyesight to Usher Syndrome, he has retreated from your world to travel the dark corners of inner space. To put it more prosaically, he daydreams a lot.

Read more about Michael and his fiction here.


colman said...

Funny really the sectarian element of the prose and/or the setting as well as a cool cover attracted me to the book.....but them my background is different......born Dublin 63 and transplanted to Luton in 66....part of extended family fled Belfast in late 60's when the civil rights/ethnic relocating/troubles flared...

I've not read Bateman for a few years when he bored me with Maid of The Mist, which in my opinion didn't live up to the first few Starkey books.

I have more of his to read but something else seems to leap off the shelf first.
Perhaps I'll pick up the Murphy book soon, if I can get the annoying picture of Jimmy Nesbit out of my head, I can't make my mind up whether he's a bit of a lad that you'd enjoy a pint with or whether he's an annoying toss-wank and you'd want to give him a slap.(I'm not deluded enough to wonder about whether he's too bothered about my opinion of him though!)

Gerard Brennan said...

Hiya Colman

Read more Bateman!

You won't regret it.

I really have no idea whether or not James Nesbit is cordial or slappable, but I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and pick up Murphy's Law.

Good man, yourself.


Michael Stone said...

I didn't see the TV series, but I had Nesbitt 'playing' Murphy when I read the book and, I have to say, he gelled perfectly with the dialogue and characteristics. Does anybody know if Bateman created the character with Nesbitt in mind?

Gerard Brennan said...

Here's an answer from the man himself.

(I lifted it off his website.)

This has a similar history to `Wild About Harry`, in that it started out as a screenplay but I ended up with so much material that I decided to turn it into a novel. The BBC 1 series came about when the independent production company Tiger Aspects asked me to write something specifically for Jimmy Nesbitt.

I`d known Jimmy vaguely for a while – he`d appeared in my short film Jumpers back in 1997 – and been keen to get the role of Dan in the film version of Divorcing Jack, but wasn`t considered well enough known at the time. When we got together we were both keen to get Dan Starkey onto television, but the brutal truth was that a TV series largely set in Belfast wasn`t going to make it onto prime time TV, so we decided to compromise on a Dan style character working as a cop in London. The rest was up to me.

I think what emerged was quite different to Dan - the humour was the same, but I think anyone from Northern Ireland can claim to have that – and Murphy obviously carries a lot more personal baggage than Dan. When it came to the book I sensed that there might be a life for Murphy beyond the TV series, not only because I enjoyed writing it, but also I wanted to be able to control the character if – as it turned out to be true – I was no longer writing the series and someone else decided to take it in a different direction. So I called `my` Murphy Martin, and the TV version remained `Tommy`.

In the books I think (hope) you really get to the bottom of Murphy, and understand his somewhat skewed perspective on life.


So, there you go, Mike. Good enough?


Michael Stone said...

Aye, more than good enough, and it answered another question I had about the different names: Tommy/Marty. I noticed that when I checked out the DVD collection of Murphy's Law on Amazon.

Thanks, Gerard.