Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adrian McKinty's Dead series

The three books in Adrian McKinty's Dead series are more that I learned about from blogs. McKinty didn't like a review of The Bloomsday Dead in The Irish Times, posted about it, and there was some discussion on other blogs whether it is wise to respond.

It was enough to get my interest. I couldn't find them in local bookstores but did find that Dead I May Well Be, The Dead Yard, and The Bloomsday Dead are available from Audible and downloaded them.

So this was a listen rather than a read. Gerard Doyle's reading is terrific. If anyone reading this knows Irish accents I'd like to know what you think. It won't affect my enjoyment of Doyle's narration but I am curious how well he does distinguishing Dublin and Belfast accents.

Dead I May Well Be

It is the early 1990s in New York City and Michael Forsythe has had a bit of trouble in Ireland and and it was expedient for him to take a job working construction for Darkey White. Darkey is the head of an Irish gang and Michael becomes muscle on one of Darkey's lower level crews. It becomes obvious that Michael isn't some goon. He's well read (though not formally educated) and articulate though he keeps his thought to himself. He distinguishes himself and seems to be on the way up in the organization until he begins a secret relationship with Darkey's girl friend, Brigit. Darkey sends Michael's crew to Mexico to buy drugs but it is actually a set-up that lands them in a Mexican prison. Betrayal, survival, revenge.

The Dead Yard

It is several years after the events in Dead I May Well Be. Michael has a price on his head and is in the witness protection program. He takes a vacation to a Spanish island and gets caught up in a football riot. The Spanish authorities are threatening to put him in prison and/or extradite him to Mexico. The British intelligence agency MI6 offers to get him out of his situation if he will infiltrate an Irish terrorist cell, the Sons of Cuchulainn, lead by two old school, hard core, ex-IRA. They oppose the peace accords that have just been signed and hope to get noticed by the Real IRA. Michael joins the cell. The leader has a daughter who Michael falls for. Michael again finds himself in a fight for survival.

The Bloomsday Dead

It is twelve years after the events in Dead I May Well Be. Brigit, Darkey White's fiance, has been trying to have Michael killed but finds she needs him when her daughter is kidnapped in Belfast. She offers to clear the slate if Michael will come to Ireland and help find the girl. Against the advice of the FBI, Michael agrees; he has never gotten over Brigit and wants to help her. He arrives in Ireland on June 16, Bloomsday in Dublin, commemorating the events in James Joyce's Ulysses. I have a feeling that there may be parallels between what happens to Michael and Ulysses but not having read Joyce's work I don't know. A London bookstore ran a contest to find the literary references and I hope to find the results. Members of Brigit's gang still want Michael dead for what he did to Darkey's gang, no matter what Brigit promised. Michael begins his search leaves a trail of violence along the way. I'm not about to give any spoilers at this point so you'll need to read or listen to the story to find out what happens.

I try not to read reviews before I put down my thoughts about a book but I did scan a couple of editorial reviews and saw Michael described as a hit man. He isn't. He is a man who finds himself in situations where he has to act decisively to survive. Frequently that requires violence, often fatal.

He is self-educated, witty, and sardonic. The stories are told in first person narrative and McKinty frequently has Michael engaging in lengthy, often lyrical, descriptions and introspective discourses. Some might that this unnecessarily breaks up the action but I liked it. It builds up a picture of the kind of person he is. You feel you know him as a person. McKinty has Michael going from exposition to staccato, almost stream of conscious, firing of words, e.g.

Yawn. Stand on tiptoes. Roll my head. Lazy stretch.

I want to give an an example of Michael's way of describing scenes and people. This one from The Bloomsday Dead isn't the most typical but I am a librarian so I had to select it.

The reading room was a charming little affair with old book tables, neat shelves and a tidy Georgian appearance. Various oddball types reading magazines, newspapers and books. The more stereotypical iron-faced librarians with horn-rimmed glasses and a capacity for unspeakable deeds patrolled the reference area enforcing the strict rules on silence, shelving, and pencils only.

...capacity for unspeakable deeds... said about librarians makes me laugh every time and I'd like to work it into my job description somehow. The comment about pencils is true, by the way. In special collection libraries, pens are not allowed.

I don't have a print copy of Dead I May Well Be in front of me but McKinty is able to have Michael describe everyday matters in most remarkable prose, his apartment in Harlem and his war with the vermin that share it with him, for example.

Lean dialog, exposition that reached lyrical heights at times, putting the reader inside a characters mind - it all pulled me into the story.

McKinty is also a very skilled writer when the action turns violent. Events turn to Michael's favor no matter how desperate the situation which gains him the reputation of someone who can't be killed. The violence is graphic but I wouldn't call gratuitous. I'm pretty sure I could justify Michael's actions in all cases.

I enjoyed all three books though my favorite is probably the first because that is where we see the beginning of Michael's change from a 19 year old to the underworld legend he becomes.

This is a terrific series and I intend to add paper copies to my library as soon as I find them in trade paperback editions. McKinty is definitely on my watch and wait for list.