I've been eagerly anticipating Gene Kerrigan's third novel, having enjoyed LITTLE CRIMINALS and THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR so much, and I am not disappointed. Right from the first page, the reader is grabbed by the author's distinguishing mix of bleak noir, perfect attention to detail, atmosphere and lyricism – no hint of wordiness or sentimentality, but engaging one's emotions and attention right from the first page of poetic description, to the shattered illusions of the last.
The story concerns Danny Callaghan, who in an almost reflex action while at the bar of a Dublin pub, saves another drinker, Walter Bennett, from being shot by two young thugs who have roared up on a motorbike. After this incident, we learn more about Danny and his friendship with Novak, the publican. Danny has been a carpenter with his own business, married to the successful Hannah, but has been in prison for some years after killing Brendan Tucker, a local crooked businessman, by bashing him on the head with a golf club after witnessing him attacking some teenagers. The reader shares Danny's thoughts on his actions and his attempts to restart his life. Even before he went to prison, he lost interest in his business and although Hannah stood by him during his trial, his lack of ambition made them drift apart and they divorced soon after his conviction. Having served his time, Danny now lives in a mean apartment in a tower block, always looking out for Brendan's brother, the even more evil Frank Tucker, who has vowed to revenge himself on Danny, and making ends meet by acting as a chauffeur for Novak, who runs several businesses including a taxi service for visiting businessmen.
Lar Mackendrick is another corrupt gangster-businessman (he and his brother featured in THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR) who uses ancient Chinese philosophy to maintain his position against Tucker and other criminals eager to control the drugs that still flow freely despite the collapse of the Irish financial bubble and the gradual decay of many hopes and plans. (This is a highly topical book, bang up to date.) Gradually, we learn more about the abortive hit on Walter as well as Danny's attempts to appease Frank and find his footing in society again, as well as with Hannah – she has remarried but the two remain close.
The book is mesmerising and absorbing, as the gangsters circle each other for advantage and we, mainly through Danny's eyes, try to disentangle the many knots of past grudges, vested interests and relationships against the background of a beautifully conveyed and observed Dublin. The action that kick-starts the end-game, when it comes, is sudden and shocking. We realise the tentative nature of Danny's grasp on mainstream life, and his vulnerabilities. Events spiral out of control – to a bloody climax which is both slightly unbelievable and inconclusive. But this is a world where there are no neat ends, and where most people have nowhere to go but down.