Tuesday 13 May 2008

A Wee Review - Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty

What does that merry aul codger Frank McCourt have to say about Adrian McKinty’s work? “His prose is so hard, so tough, so New York-honest, you’ll find yourself taking a knife to your work. He is a cross between Mickey Spillane and Damon Runyon - the toughest, the best. Beware of McKinty.”

Not a bad recommendation, eh? Well, if my opinion means anything to you, I think McKinty is a hard-hitting writer with a serious attitude problem. But he’s not just dealing out a violent gangster tale with Dead I Well May Be. This novel oozes elegant prose and poetic internal dialogue.

Michael Forsythe takes the narrative helm in Dead I Well May Be. The story is set in the early nineteen-nineties and Forsythe is a young man approaching twenty, feeling the pinch of unemployment in his native Belfast. Although he’s not keen on it, he goes to New York to seek employment through a contact with Irish Mob boss, Darkey White. He soon rises through the ranks, proving himself time and again as the most competent and ballsy member of his crew. But he makes one fatal error and Darkey shows no mercy.

The first thing to strike me while reading Dead I Well May Be was the ease with which McKinty introduces us to Harlem. In just a few pages he builds a real world of sights, smells and sounds. I was right there in the middle of the humidity, clamour and squalor. Any writer could learn a lot from those pages of prose. In fact, every writer should. From then on, I was hooked into this book and couldn’t wait to get to the end, just to write a glowing review. From Harlem to Mexico to Belfast, the descriptive prose invigorates this novel.

One of McKinty’s greatest strengths is his ruthlessness. He seems to hate his protagonist, placing him time and again in impossible situations and never letting him escape unscathed. But the beauty of it is, with each trial and tribulation, the reader’s respect for young Michael goes up a notch. Seriously, if I had the chance to shake this man’s hand... well, I’d pass. Just in case I insulted him in some way and ended up on his bad side. But I’d give him a nod of admiration before turning on my heels and putting a lot of distance between us.

There aren’t really any weaknesses in Dead I Well May Be, in my opinion. The decision to ignore the concept of speech marks caused me to stumble over a sentence or two, which had the annoying effect of pulling me out of the story. But other than that, we have a huge story that is poignant and exciting. Dead I Well May Be is as brutal and unforgiving as a Belfast Six-pack but it’s told with literary eloquence and style. Is it any wonder I picked up The Bloomsday Dead minutes after putting down this one?


And while you do that, I’m going to email a few people and see if we can get it on a few Northern Irish bookshelves. You never know, somebody might take note.


colman said...

Told ya it was fuckin good,

can't believe you're skipping the 2nd though - THE DEAD YARD

Gerard Brennan said...

You did, Colman.

I got it on very good authority that The Dead Yard is more of a stand alone book, so it can be enjoyed out of sequence. However, DIWMD is essential reading before TBD.



colman said...

enjoy anyway,

I've ordered my copy of TBD but it's not been sent yet

Josephine Damian said...

Gerard: It's official!

Stuart Neville, my Prince of Darkness, and the writer formerly known as "Conduit," has landed an agent - and not just any agent - but literary powerhouse and legend, Nat Sobel.

His agency, Sobel Weber Associates, New York, represents a few scribes you might have heard of: James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia, American Tabloid), Joseph Wambaugh (The Choirboys, The Onion Field, Hollywood Station), Pulitzer winner Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool, Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs), F.X. Toole (Rope Burns - adapted for the screen as the multi Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby - and Pound for Pound), Robert Jordan (the Wheel of Time series), Tim Dorsey (the Serge Storms series), and many more.

Oh, Nat also loves him some cats. My kind of guy.

And how did Stuart get on the Uber agent’s radar? I’m going to steal a bit of Stuart’s thunder and reveal to my blog peeps that Mr. Sobel scouted him on the Internet. That’s right – a big name agent was scouring the online crime magazines and plucked our man from obscurity. (of course I’ve been singing Stuart’s praises loud and clear since last fall when I first read his work in Agent Nathan’s Bransford’s writing contest). To those of you that don’t believe agents are poking around the world wide web looking for The Next Big Thing – here’s your proof. Here. Is. Your. Proof.

So do stop by and give a big shout out to the literary world’s best and brightest rising star!


*shake my booty*

Having already read Stuarts’s manuscript (it already holds the distinction of being only one of four books I liked well enough to finish this year) GHOSTS OF BELFAST, I can tell you it’s nothing by clover ahead for this blessed son of Northern Ireland.

Gerard Brennan said...

Josephine - thanks for the tip. Will post about it now.


Anonymous said...

you say in your review "He seems to hate his protagonist" - I think this is very perceptive, and having read this book, it explains a lot to me.
Great review, and look forward to reading what you make of whichever of the next ones you decide to read. (I've got a spare copy of TBD so if anyone wants it, please email me via my blog Petrona at http://petrona.typepad.com) - so long as they are vaguely close, ie Europe or UK.

Gerard Brennan said...

Hiya Maxine

As always, a pleasure to hear from you. I'm flattered you found my opinion perceptive. Funny thing, I found your Eurocrime review of the book yesterday when googling the title (obsessed with finding out where CSNI places) and I get what you were saying about the first third of the book. I think my boyish fascination with the gangster element kept me tuned in to that part. Maybe not for every reader, but it was fascinating to me.

I'm halfway through The Bloomsday Dead and enjoying it. Hope someone takes you up on that generous offer though. If they don't I'd like to recommend a lucky recipient.

Don't be a stranger!


Anonymous said...

Although overall the book did not dis appoint, in fact i very much enjoyed Mckinty's style of writing, but I found myself repeatedly pausing to wonder just why he had crammed another, quite unnecessary, and overused, Irish or Northern Irish witticism, remark, slang word or name into a novel already blatantly drawing attention to its Irish roots, I would applaud the use of local landmarks and sayings in a novel, in fact, for me it is all the more engaging, but when used in excess they seemed to draw attention to themselves, detracting from what was otherwise a gritty and fantastically descriptive book the was far from easy to put down, although my thoughts are perhaps overcritical and not shared amongst other readers....?

Gerard Brennan said...

Hi Matt

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Sorry I took so long to respond. Been a tad busy.

I hear what you're saying, but that particular view isn't shared by this reader. To me, Forsythe wasn't particularly dying to go to America in the first place and the references to the OC are maybe an indication of where he really wants to be. The character is an NI man through and through. I think McKinty wanted to put that accross by showing rather than telling. In my opinion, he succeeded.

But, y'know... different strokes for different folks.



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