Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Dead Yard, by Adrian McKinty

I have just recently finished reading the Dead trilogy, with Belfast's Michael Forsythe as hero or anti-hero or something. I wouldn't recommend reading the series in the order I have, but as the first is out of print in the U.S. right now, do what you must.

The Dead Yard is the second book in the series, although chronologically, this story actually fits in somewhere before the coda at the end of the first novel, Dead I Well May Be. Starting off on the island Spanish island of Tenerife, somewhere off the east coast of Africa, the action swiftly moves back to the east coast of America, which is a different clime entirely.

It doesn't give too much away, I think, to reveal that Michael becomes embedded in a disaffected Irish group who are hoping to make a big splash to gain favor back in the home country.

I've heard that some find this middle novel darker than the others, but frankly I'm surprised at that. Our introduction to Michael Forsythe in Dead I Well May Be very quickly throws us into the dark and violent world he lives in, and shows him to be if not a willing participant, at least a compliant and resigned one.

As a person who is not particularly drawn to violence as a selling point, I have had to think a bit about why this series works for me. True, the writing is tight and at times gorgeous, and the darkness of the series is relieved by the author's periodic wit. Still, we are left with the conundrum of the appeal of the central character. I must admit that I was a bit baffled by it, especially in reading this second, but for me, third of this very compelling series.

And then I thought of Odysseus.

Now let me say right out front that at its heart,this is an action series. If you liked Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne movies, then you should be saying your prayers that someone in Hollywood will see the commercial potential of this series. But it remains true that these books are more literary at their roots and so the Odysseus reference seems fair.

Michael Forsythe starts in Belfast, and though this may be a spoiler, ends in Belfast. He does, in effect, live out his own odyssey, and spends his time in various lands with various snares, just as Odysseus does. Although the third book, The Bloomsday Dead, actually models itself on the plan of Joyce's Ulysses, which in turn is also based on The Odyssey, I don't mean to imply that this is a deliberate pattern of the books. But I will say that thinking about the character of Odysseus may prove helpful in thinking about the character of Michael Forsythe. Because the chief word that springs to mind for both characters is "cunning". Not kind, not compassionate, although both characters do at times exhibit these traits, but cunning. Like Odysseus, Michael Forsythe makes survival his highest value. Odysseus does this because he intends to return home, no matter the pain, and no matter the cost. Forsythe never makes this goal plain, even to himself, but in fact, there is a Penelope, though not as Penelope ever imagined herself, and there is even a Telemachus of sorts, though the less I say about that the better.

I believe that Odysseus is a type of human consciousness and Michael Forsythe is a reflection of that type. Although we see Odysseus in a heroic light, Forsythe casts a different sort of light. In a way, he shows the limits of the heroic mold. Odysseus survives by embodying the heroic values of courage, resourcefulness, foresight, and yes, cunning. So does Michael. But in these, our latter times, the ending is not so neat. Michael Forsythe, at the end of the day, is not a Hero, but a human being. And human beings carry within them the history of all their actions--an anti-heroic tale indeed.

11 comments:

  1. This post could start an interesting discussion of darkness, violence and why the two are so often conflated or confused in discussions of crime writing. This book contains several scenes of graphic violence, but it is not an especially dark book -- not noir, as I understand the term.

    My v-word might attract a mining engineer who spells poorly: boxight.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  2. Seana

    From the reviews on Good Reads and Amazon it seems to me that the people who didnt like the violence in Dead Yard felt that I had tricked them or cheated by making the first half relatively light hearted and then shovelling gore in their faces for the final third, whereas in DIWMB you know in chapter 1 that MF is a fairly unpleasant character who moves in unpleasant circles.


    Certainly it wasnt my intention to "trick" anyone although I did want to surprise the reader and MF by showing the group initially to be incompetent dreamers who werent a serious threat to anyone. MF and everyone else get surprised by how ugly things turn out.

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  3. Peter, no, you're right, it's not ultimately a dark book. Solea, the final book in Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseilles trilogy is what I would call a dark book, by way of contrast.

    Adrian, without wanting to give too much away, I would guess that some people were uncomfortable with the deaths of some people who they may have felt were largely innocent. I don't share that view, because I think one of the things that was clear to me was that people threw in their allegiances where they did, and by that decision, their fates were sealed.

    However, I'd think that anyone who had read Dead I Well May Be should have had no illusions about Michael Forsythe's capacity for ruthlessness. The end of Dead Yard is very similar to the end of DIWMB in the sense that Michael is willing and determined to do whatever it takes to survive, so I wonder what people thought crossed the line. The line was crossed very early on in Michael's story, and the rest is just a playing out of consequences.

    One thing that I didn't mention in my post is how women often provide a kind of screen for other versions of his life--how it might have been different. There's an Israeli girl he meets in a bar before it all goes south in DIWMB, for instance, and Kit in this book is another example of that sort of wishing for a different sort of life.

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  4. Solea was recently occasion for a comment of mine on an interview with Andrea Camilleri. That deservedly beloved Italian author, a friend of Izzo's, made a statement about Izzo that is arguably not quite true. I can say no more on the subject.

    And yep, Michael Forsythe survives and bounces back in each of the first two books, slowly in the first, with shocking suddenness in the second.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  5. Peter, I am not sure I totally agree with you on how well or fast MF bounces back in the second. I would have said it took everything he had.

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  6. Oh, also, I had no idea that Camarelli and Izzo were friends. But then, I haven't read Camarelli--yet.

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  7. Here's some of what I wrote about The Dead Yard:

    "The Dead Yard, second in Adrian McKinty's three-book series about Michael Forsythe, moves in harsher, more serious territory than its predecessor, Dead I Well May Be.

    "For one thing, the first book's third act, a long section in which Forsythe recovers from an ordeal, regains his place in the world, and gathers the physical and emotional resources he needs to resume his adventure, is here compressed to 2 1/2 pages — or, more strictly speaking, to a single brutal and vital sentence. That leaves more room for the central narrative, and a violent narrative it is.

    "For another, the betrayals are more numerous, and they hit harder. This book's violence is more graphic as well.
    "

    I always assocaited Izzo, Camilleri and Manuel Vasquez Montalban. All were (or are) men of the left with political sentiments inseparable from their fiction. All wrote books whose protagonsits eat well, a trait not associated with political commitment in our part of the world. And Camilleri named his protagonist, Salvo Montalbano, for Vasquez Montalban.

    But I had never known the three had met until I read the Camilleri interview this week. He was discussing how authors bring their series to an end (he is said already to have written the final Montalbano book), and he is arguably not quite accurate when he discusses Izzo's handling of this delicate matter.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  8. So how am I supposed to learn what Camarelli said not quite rightly about Solea, then?

    Here's a distinction between Dead I Well May Be and The Dead Yard that might have made a difference to readers in how they felt about them. In the first book, you've got a kid right off the boats, who though he may have some choice in joining the Irish gangs of New York, but doesn't see them. In, the second, though, he has agreed to appear as something he is not, not out of idealism, but because he's been pushed into that particular corner. I suppose that in both books, he could take the other option, but in the second one, he is in some sense more culpable for taking it. Not that you don't as a reader understand the choice, but when people die, you feel the weight of his responsibility more.

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  9. Here's the interview. My v-word is wonderful portmanteau: bodity.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  10. Oh, okay. I see what you're saying.

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