Sunday, January 29, 2012

Resurrection Man

Eoin McNamee’s 1994 novel Resurrection Man took me across the ocean, past the checkpoints, and straight into the cerebral cortices of the killers, comrades, lovers, friends, family, and pursuers of the murderous Belfast sectarian killers called the Resurrection Men in the book, the Shankhill Butchers in real life

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

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Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

"Terrifying and pathetic at the same time" --I know what you're talking about. Sounds chilling.

January 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It is. I don't many writers who can attempt to portray the two qualities without tilting to one or the other. Some of the Resurrection Men are terrifying precisely because they're pathetic.

January 30, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I haven't read McNamee, but he sounds interesting. I should read Resurrection Man if only to find out how he deals with the 'truth is stranger than fiction' problem. The Butchers were so extreme I can only imagine them in a non-fiction setting. In a fictional setting they just seem fantastical.

Like McKinty's The Cold Cold Ground, this book is likely to make you feel like you were there. Like that book...

All those likes! I suspect a devious plot to hypnotize the reader into liking the book mentioned!

'Make you feel like you were there.' That use of 'like' is quite kosher, is it, Peter? No danger of being blacklisted by the House of Ungrammatical Activities Committee, is there?

January 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, NcNamee avoids overdescription and portentous foreshadowing. He gives us no verbal equivalent of ominous music as victims set out alone at night to be slaughtered, for example. And, while we get a description or two of a killing's aftermath, the book contains no gory play-by-play of the kind one might get in Stieg Larsson, for example. The novel is not at all what one might expect from a novel based on so horrific a subject.

Resurrection Man may be less gory than the Wikipedia article in which I first heard about the Shankhill Butchers, which I think used Martin Dillon's book as a source.

All those likes! I suspect a devious plot to hypnotize the reader into liking the book mentioned!

What can I tell you? I liked the book?

The "as if you were" has largely gone the way of noun cases in English. Change happens, though this is arguable one of vocabulary rather than of grammar and syntax, and therefore less interesting. I won't make the argument here, though.

January 30, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


The amazing thing about McNamee is that he started off so confidently and brilliantly and then only got better. Its quite the trick to pull off.

January 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, it's hard to believe Resurrection Man was a first novel.

January 31, 2012  

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