Friday 9 October 2009

A Wee Review - Barbelo's Blood by Capt. Joseph W. Barbelo

Capt. Joseph W. Barbelo made quite an impression on me after he accepted my invitation to partake in a CSNI Q&A. And judging by the comments there and on the Crime Always Pays post that referenced it, I wasn’t the only person intrigued by this new force in Irish writing.

So I was looking forward to reading Barbelo’s Blood, even, if at 440 pages packed with text, it would be one of the longest books I’ve read in years.

Barbelo’s Blood is basically a ‘quest’ novel. The book was blurbed by the mighty Ken Bruen, and as such I’d mentally lumped Barbelo in with the ever mutating Irish crime fiction fraternity. And there are quite a few gangster crime fiction tropes in there; crime firms and vigilantes to name a couple. But I’d equate this to something closer to a Neil Gaiman dark fantasy than anything else. At eighty-two years old, the books protagonist, Joe Barbelo is rediscovering himself. And he’s an ultra-violent kind of guy.

Wait, though. Isn’t Joe Barbelo the writer too? Ahem, that’s Capt. Joseph W. Barbelo to you -- but yes, the writer is the character is the writer, but judging by the fact that most of the story takes place in Brixton in the eighties, I’m going to take a chance and assume that Capt. Barbelo is a pseudonym. Otherwise the dude’s at least 104 years old. And judging by the content, I have to hope it’s a work of fiction, not a biography.

But as all good fiction should, Barbelo’s Blood gave this reader plenty to chew on. Conspiracy theories, the nature of life, immortality, morality and legal loopholes... it’s all in there. Is it a little too much to cover in one novel? Hmmm, possibly. Personally, I think it might have worked well as two books with more emphasis on certain themes in each one, but the publisher, Galway Print, might argue that they’ve provided value for money. And as a very small outfit in a competitive market of titans, I guess I can’t fault them for that. The novel is split into four parts, so there’s nothing stopping a reader from taking breaks in between each one to read something else.

On the whole, the writing is pretty tasty. Snappy and with a real London twang. Yeah, sorry, I should have mentioned; the story has some strong Irish connections but Barbelo is a Londoner. Written in first person with lapses from past to present tense, which works to keep the tone conversational, I found myself completely plugged in to the writer’s voice. And with an attention span like mine, Barbelo has to be doing something right.

The very nature of this novel makes it impossible to sum it up in a snappy closing paragraph, so just let me say this; Barbelo the character does all the things you wished you could do, then takes it to the extreme. Barbelo the novel almost makes you believe he’s doing the right thing. Barbelo the writer is probably pissing himself laughing. And juggling grenades with no pins.


Neil Mount said...

Great review Gerard! Sure is packed full of tasty stuff eh? lol

New cover is almost ready, which we think is a great improvement. Also the enigmatic Capt Barbelo is going to peg off to one side and the real clever fellow will be standing up and taking a bow! So all will become clear.. well clearer anyway!


Gerard Brennan said...

It sure is. Tasty stuff and fit-birds, as the dear captain himself would say.

Glad you approve, Neil.

Colour me intrigued by the true writer's revelation. And I'd be interested in a short follow up interview if he's game.



Michael Stone said...

Intriguing! Ajnd it sounds like my kinda book, with the fantasy and crime elements and all. Ta for bringing it to my attention, gb.

seana graham said...

I'm intrigued to know the identity of that one hundred and four year old writer myself, particularly since I'd like to know what they attribute their longevity to.

But I'm still waiting for that ten best paperbacks list, gb.

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - Yeah, I think you would like it.

Seana - I've a list of eight so far. Still fiddling with the criteria before deciding on the final two and releasing it for public consumption. Glad somebody's waiting for it...