(Blackstone Audio)Michael Forsythe is an "eejit," a "piece of shite." All this as he is finally closing in on finding the kidnapped eleven-year-old Siobhan Callaghan somewhere outside Belfast. As he comes into the Orange Lodge, a cottage where three kidnappers are holding the daughter (of the love of his life), he steps on a "cattle grid" and his prosthetic foot jams between the bars, gets yanked off and, no matter how he pulls and pushes, he can't get it out. Since he is about to open the door of the hut and have a gun battle (his sixth or seventh of the day ... we lost count) with the three kidnappers, he opines that he will not get very far with only one working foot.
McKinty knows how to grab the reader. At each moment we are ready for his testy hood to go through another session of blood-letting ... and we are not so sure he will survive. By the time he gets to Belfast, Forsythe has already murdered a fellow-worker, thrown a gunman out the window of the Miraflores Hilton in Lima, beaten a cabbie-kidnapper near to death with a tire-iron in Dublin, had a near-death experience himself with a gun-toting hombre in a whore house, then --- once in Belfast ---fought off four or five hoodlums in a pub, shot another in the groin at a downstairs dog-fight saloon, survived a grenade attack on a houseboat, and cornered the head of the IRA in the local library ... only to get kidnapped and spirited away by a Russian thug.He gets clubbed, knifed, kicked, bruised, cut up, cuffed, shot at, smacked, smashed, squashed, and shanghaied. He lives through a car wreck, several near-hits from a 9 mm, a .22, several .38s, machine guns, Glocks ... and has made it through the arrival of a couple of Russian grenades. And, in one exquisite episode, he has even survived the interminable bureaucracy of a noted Irish library known as Linen Hall.
Now he has closed in on the "wean" (the kidnapped waif) and at the moment of truth, his foot gets jammed in a bloody cowcatcher, taking several minutes --- which seem like hours to us --- to get his prosthetic device out from between the bars so he can start shooting again.
Thus a typical day in the life of a former goon of the Irish-American mafia, a former member of the WPP (the witness protection program), a man with several scores of hoodlums, screws, gunmen, toughs, IRA members, "peelers" ... and the head of a local goon-squad ... out to stop him or, better, "top" him.
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Much of our affection for Bloomsday Dead comes from the writing mastery of the author. The Irish language can be as rich in descriptive nouns as Black Southern English and Central European Yiddish. There is too McKinty's off-the-cuff slyness, social criticism disguised as a "detective" story. Here is a pub called the "Four Kingdom View:"
A low-ceilinged, timber-framed room. A tiny kitchen giving off a smell of old socks and rat poison.
Through the tobacco haze I could see that I was in yet another sinister little pub, with unhelpful-looking locals eyeing me from the shadows. Barely half a dozen people in the place. All of them farmers wearing tweed jackets and flat caps. No one sitting next to anyone else. Everyone left to their own morose thoughts and reflections. It was your typical suspicious, superstitious, closemouthed, dour Irish country pub. The sort of pub you never see in the tourist ads for Ireland but which are just as common as the singing-and-dancing happy pubs celebrated on the screen.
"Detective stories" was what we used to call them, thinking of Chandler or the Continental Op. They are strange amalgams of adventure, brutality, and occasional gruff tenderness. We know that our hard-bitten detectives are going to survive massive assaults from fists or firearms, so how does an author even build tension?
It has to be more than mere suspension-of-disbelief. For, even with all evidence against it, we cannot be too sure that this "eejit" is going to get out from under the three thugs sitting atop him at the back of the IRA sedan, the three having just been ordered by a man improbably named Body O'Neill to suffocate him with a heavy plastic bag. Later, we wonder how Forsythe could possibly, with all his cuts and bruises, make it up the stairs of a scabrous dog-fight pub after he spots an aluminum baseball bat coming his way ("they don't play baseball in Belfast?")
Or, at the back of the "Witch's Cave" where Bridget Callaghan --- the "wean's" mother --- is to make her $10,000,000 drop, Forsythe announces his presence to the man who's been trying, for the last two days, to have him done in, his old friend Scotchy Finn. How in hell is he going to make it past him and his five or so thugs? Forsythe is in trouble --- hell, he's always in trouble --- and since the reader has, by chapter three, gotten quite fond of him, we don't want him to be "topped."
We have to give credit to the author's ability to shape words and action and dialogue and, at the same time. move a story along at a furious pace. Bloomsday Dead takes us through twenty-four hours of a thousand-kilovolt pandemic. McKinty does it with timing and wit, if not a certain mordant view of the world ... the world known as Ireland. "From St. Patrick to the Vikings, Ireland had five centuries of peace," we are told.
Never before or after. And ever since we've had the creature with us. Our shadow, our watcher, our tormentor, our instigator. It sleeps. It dreams. But it's still here. Coiled. Hungry.
§ § §McKinty is fond of literary games. A young lady that Forsythe forces to drive him to Belfast reveals that she is studying French literature, even quotes for her kidnapper the famous line from Montaigne, Je veux ... que la mort me trouve plantant mes choux, me nonchalant d'elle, et encore plus de mon jardin imparfait... [I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but caring little for dying, and much more for my imperfect garden].
Several critics have pointed out the ties of the present novel to Ulysses. "Bloomsday" is the now ritual 16 June pilgrimage through Dublin by Joyce fans from all over, retracing the footsteps of Leopold Bloom. On the plane from New York to Ireland, a school marm sitting next to Forsythe asks if he is going to join in the festivities, and he naughtily wonders aloud if --- since the word is "bloom" --- the pilgrimage has to do with flowers. Bloomsday Dead even ends with Molly's mythic "Yes," uttered now by Bridget Callahan ... echoing the final surrender on the last pages of Ulysses.
And the first words in the first chapter --- "State LY Plum P Buck Mulligan" (a coded message sent to Forsythe) --- takes us directly to the first words in Joyce's work. McKinty even drops in chapter titles that reflect the folly of one Stuart Gilbert. (Gilbert was a dim-witted critic who bothered Joyce excessively for clues about his cryptic works. It was his belief that Ulysses was directly linked to the sequences in Odyssey. During a drunken spree, Joyce agreed, merely to twit a persistent literary groupie who would not leave him alone.)
For those of us who were English Lit majors during the halcyon days of Joycean clue-hunting, Ulysses was our first real detective novel. Did Stephen kill his mother by his callousness? Will Mrs. Purefoy die? Who is the "man in the raincoat? And Bloomsday Dead may use Joyce to give added piquancy to this work, but even without the garnish, the book is a tremendous ride from Lima to Belfast.
The recorded version we have here is by Gerard Doyle. The narrator is as gifted as you could ask: his brogue, his change of voice for the various characters, his pauses: all are pure gold.
We don't hand out much in the way of stars in RALPH (a single one for a worthy book will be listed in our "Table of Contents.") But if we were in the star business, we would give
to the book, and another
to reader Doyle.--- L. W. Milam