But this is no middlebrow sociological novel, seeking the roots of criminality in childhood or other trauma. Nor, despite its basis in real events and real deeds, is it a cheap straight-from-the-headlines-style exposé. (Indeed, the novel muses upon the power of media to rub the sharp edges off tragedy, smoothing everything into well-practiced phrases.) McNamee’s excursions into his characters’ heads serve only to show how isolated each is from everyone else.
Despite the intimate familiarity the novel gives us with the mind of gang leader Victor Kelly (apparently modeled closely on the real-life Lenny Murphy), McNamee never resorts to the easy out of making him sympathetic. Kelly's psychological disintegration and his delusions of grandeur are stark and terrible, but not redeeming in the least. That would be too easy.
Like Adrian McKinty's The Dead Yard, this book makes its killers terrifying and pathetic at the same time, a bunch of losers hanging around pubs talking about "units" and "operations" before going out to slaughter lone, defenseless civilians. Like McKinty's The Cold Cold Ground, this book is likely to make you feel like you were there. Like that book as well, it would not be out of place in a course on recent and contemporary Northern Irish history, a scary, traumatic history but one well worth knowing.
© Peter Rozovsky 2012