Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dark, epic zest from Adrian McKinty

What do we learn from Dead I Well May Be, Adrian McKinty's first novel about a Northern Irish crook/killer/thinker/survivor named Michael Forsythe let loose in America?

We learn that whoever said revenge is a dish best served cold did not work from Michael Forsythe's recipe book.

We learn that an author can get readers feeling they are inside a first-person narrator's head simply by omitting quotation marks. This heightens the illusion that everything we read is filtered through the narrator rather than quoted by the author.

We learn the virtue of patience and the simple heartbreak of death.

We learn that humor can work even in grim situations, and McKinty's humor is among the grimmer ones in crime fiction. This is one of the lighter examples, but you'll get it anyway because it's also one of the funniest: "Carolyn's her real name, but she wants everyone to call her Linnie. That should have been a clue right there. She's no Bridget, though she is pretty. Pale, thin, blond. fragile. She's from Athens, Georgia, but likes the B-52's rather than R.E.M. Another clue."

Forsythe is under siege from quite a number of hired killers at the time, but he still offers a rock and roll reference that's right up there with Jo Nesbø's all-timer about the Rolling Stones in The Devil's Star.

Michael's grim, sometimes hellish journey through the last two thirds of the book may evoke for the literary-minded any number of the world's great epics. Think of the book as Dirty Harry meets Dante if you must.

That last two thirds also wiped away the one quibble I had with the book's zesty opening chapters: McKinty's use of retrospective foreshadowing, of the "I missed the chance that night, the last chance I would get because the world caved in the next morning" type. I almost always find the device obtrusive and unnecessary. I suspect McKinty used it as a reminder that Forsythe is narrating events that had happened to him before the time in which he is narrating them.

I could have done without such reminders, but I forgot my objections rather quickly once the book moved into the harrowing middle section. Among other things, the events of this section are nightmarish enough that a narrator looking back on them would understandably use them as a point of reference for everything that went before and that followed. So disregard my quibble and read the novel. It's a hell, or an inferno, of a tale.

(Dead I Well May Be is the first of a series that continues with The Dead Yard and ends with The Bloomsday Dead. Based on the first book's conclusion, I would suggest reading the novels in order if possible.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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25 Comments:

Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Excellent take on a cracking book! I'm 100% with you on this one. McKinty shot to the top of my favourite author list after I read Dead I Well May Be. Having completed the entire trilogy I also second your recommendation to read them in order.

gb

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I was going to say that the ending of Dead I Well May Be screams sequel!!! but that would not be right. Yes, I finished the novel with a strong expectation of what Michael Forsythe might get up to in the later books, but this was perfectly consistent with what McKinty had had him doing since his (Forsythe's) return to New York. It did not feel like a setup. The character was on a series of patient, violent, single-minded quests for about the last half of Dead I Well May Be, so it's no surprise that the book should end with him on the brink of another.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Agreed. It's hard to discuss it further without spoiling the plot for others following the thread, but another impressive elemnet to the novel, for me, lay in the three act structure. Each act seemed to adopt a style and mood of its own which made them stand out with sriking clarity. And I think that helped build the tension of the inevitable ending. It might also be part of the reason for the foreshadowing you mentioned. Kind of a, "yeah, things are nuts now, but wait 'til you see what happens next!" style of thing.

Hopefully, Mr McKinty will visit this post at some point to provide some author insight.

gb

July 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter,

Thank you again for your kind words. It really means a lot to me coming from you.

Good spotting on the B52 girl. I thought I could slip her in there and no one would notice. Yes we went out, no of course it didn't work out.

The foreshadowing. Yup I've taken stick for that. My feeling is that Michael is telling the story from a perspective of years, so at least for him its not all going to be a linear series of chronological events. His mind is going to mix things up a bit and let slip other things. The conceit of a first person is that it's his story not mine, he's telling it, not me, so I allow him leeway that I wouldnt allow myself. I dont think he gives away any of the last chapter stuff, but he does hint strongly that things arent going to go all that well. And there a line in there about a guy he meets once and then meets again in Westchester that I dont think I'd cut for all the cocoa beans in Hershey, PA.

Again thank you Peter for the spotlight, the analysis and the extremely careful read.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Mr Brennan

Thank you for your sweet words and for supporting what is essentially an out of print book - at least in the US.

A lot of people have seemingly read the second book as a stand alone, but I agree it helps to have read #1 to get where the poor devil is coming from.

The act structure of DIWMB was indeed a device I used, hopefully not too clunkily, to change the tempo and the mood, and set up the denouement.

Anyway thank you very much Ger me old mucker.

adrian...

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

I missed DIWMB, but was fortunate enough to be asked to review THE DEAD YARD and loved it, with all the kudos Peter used for DIWMB. Highly recommended.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, gents. Gerard, yes, the three-act structure is clear, as is the distinct mood of each. Giving each section a distinct feeling is a bit of a risk, but it works quite well in this case, I'd say.

The structure and some of the narrative devices could provide fruitful material for classroom discussion, and I mean that as a compliment.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'm surprised you'd have thought you could sneak the B-52s line in. Faithful visitors to this site will know how seriously crime-fiction readers take their rock and roll references, for one thing. For another, a funny line at an unexpected moment will stick out more.

Nothing wrong with a bit of foreshadowing, of course, and I could see why you were doing it, but can an author run the risk of disrupting a current story to foreshadow a future one? Perhaps I'll think more carefully about this issue someday. For now, it may be just a personal bête noire.

You're quite welcome. The book rewards analysis, and I meant no insult when I suggested to Gerard that I could easily picture it as grist for classroom discussion.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I'll soon catch up with you and read The Dead Yard. Is your review available online?

July 23, 2008  
Anonymous Karen C said...

Mr McKinty is to be a guest at the upcoming MWF and we've been sufficiently encouraged to show up for his session (I can't decide if it's because he seemed so stressed we wouldn't or because he did mention that after he's had a few he could be encouraged to have a bit of a sob and maybe some waterworks. An offer almost too good to be true). But the mention of the books is timely and I thank you - more things to add to the To Be Found list!

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're lucky to have him, and he may be able to provide some thoughts on Australian crime fiction. He prefaces Peter Temple's name, as other have, with "the great," for example.

Melbourne is apparently such a crime-fiction capital that it's attracting authors from elsewhere. If I should visit, I'll have to see St. Kilda because I've read about it in enough crime novels from Fergus Hume's time on.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If he remains in Australia long enough, he may even qualify as an Australian author for Oz Mystery Readers purposes.

July 23, 2008  
Anonymous Karen C said...

St Kilda - I fear - is probably somewhat more sinister in the writing than the actuality. But it is a place of contrasts so that definitely helps.

Given we're looking for somewhere to live further out into the bush, I'm hoping that writers will give up on the inner city and think, instead, of the endless possibilities of miles and miles of nothing much :)

July 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

REM is one thing, but thank you for not commenting on my cliched use of Christmas in Hollis near the end of the book. I completely forgot they used it in Die Hard and my cheeks burn with shame when I read that now.

I finally read old Fergie Hume. The book is pretty good. Next time I'm teaching a course it's going to be on there.

Karen,

Yup I'll be raging and crying. Its probably the beginnings of a mid life crisis or something.

Ahhhh, the Bush, I'm looking forward to it. I have a feeling there might be slightly fewer interior designers out there than in St. Kilda.

Slainte


adrian...

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Karen, St. Kilda never struck me as especially sinister. I mean, a football team plays or played there, so how bad can it be? (The team is the St. Kilda Saints, if I recall correctly incidental sports detail from my Australian crime reading.)

Sounds as if you want writers to follow Adrian Hyland’s path, or maybe David Owen’s.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, what do you teach? I’ve never seen Die Hard or its sequels Die Harder, Die Even Harder and Die Really, Really Hard, so you’re safe on that score.

I’ve never seen an author rage or cry at a conference. Closest I came was hearing and seeing three authors poking rough, good-natured and very funny fun at a fourth who was not, of course, present. And Ken Bruen saying of his early writing that “For years, I wrote nothing but poems, hundreds of poems, and all but five of them were shite.” This was the first the I heard an Irishman say “shite” and thus a highlight of my life.

July 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I can answer your St Kilda question. Yup they're the St Kilda Saints aussie rules team, they dont play in the hood anymore, but thats where they came from. St K is a lot like the East Village in the 90's, some crime, drugs, quite a few ladies of the night, but in the process of major gentrification.

In Denver I taught high school English and I used teach a fun little course on the history of crime fiction at Naropa Uni in Boulder.

Never seen Die Hard? I suppose that means you skipped Hudson Hawk too.

Bruen's from Galway if I remember, so he uses shite a bit more of an Ulster way rather than a Dublin way I think. ie without the "gob".

Cheers mate

Adrian...

July 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, yes. I remember the jacket bio on Dead I Well May Be mentioned that you were teaching in Denver.

Peter Temple's Jack Irish novels make much of the disorienting effect that an absconded team can have on its long-time followers. Those set pieces with Jack and his father's old friends are among the delights of the books.

Bruen is indeed from Galway. I prefer my shite without the gob. Gobshite is no slouch, but it lacks the rough perfection of shite, which is, in its turn, infinitely superior to shit. The long i makes the word sound like echoing gun shot.

Of course, I have never heard an echoing gun shot, but I've seen plenty of movies that were full of 'em.

July 24, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter Temple is quite the old sly boots isnt he? I keep hoping I'll run into him on Carlisle Street but it hasnt happened yet.

Hey thats a potential thread: author stalking. I was once behind Iris Murdoch at the supermarket. She was buying tea bags. Fascinating, eh?

July 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never stalked an author, but I have at separate times made Susan Sontag and Fran Lebowitz laugh. (I have mentioned this at least once on the blog, but bear with me. These were my two brushes with greatness ... Well, I have had coffee with one Nobel Prize winner. He drank Sanka and said it sucked.)

July 24, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Who he?

July 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That would be Dario Fo, the surprising winner of the literature prize in 1997. While working on some articles about him in 1986, I followed him and his wife, Franca Rame, to performances they were giving in New York, New Haven and Cambridge. (He's really more an actor and a clown, in the best sense, than a writer.) We were having coffee one night between performances, and he asked for decaf and got Sanka.

Neither his English nor my Italian was all that great, so we spoke in French. He prepared his Sanka, sipped it, wrinkled his nose, and, "Detestable!"

Detestable! = This sucks! = This is shite!

July 24, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well,if my name was Carolyn I too would prefer to be called Linnie.Am I a bad person?
And what's the significance of the rock and roll reference? That she's a fun loving party girl instead of a serious,socially and environmentally conscious college kid?
And what if she liked R.E.M. more but her favourite song was "Shiny Happy People"?

Dario Fo ROCKS.

Marco

July 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I take no stand on the earnest lyrics and ringing guitar of R.E.M. versus the irresitibly danceable silliness of the B-52s. If Linnie/Carolyn liked R.E.M. and her favorite song was "Shiny Happy People," I'd say she showed great talent for bringing together apparently irreconcilible factions.

July 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

For the edification of readers, Dario Fo does rock, and Kate Pierson of the B-52's sings on R.E.M.'s record of "Shiny Happy People."

July 25, 2008  

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