Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Lighthouse Land by Adrian McKinty

As the school year ends and summer pleasure reading begins, it seems a fine time to suggest an action packed adventure story, especially one that is the first of a trilogy. This book has two likely but very different audiences. The first is composed of middle grade readers, looking forward to somewhat bigger adventures in the years ahead. The second comprises McKinty's adult fan base, who are either waiting for this summer's release of his latest crime fiction, Fifty Grand, to hit the shops in paperback, or simply have run through all the rest of his oeuvre.

For this last group, who may be thinking about gifts for the younger readers in their circle as well, fear not--there are no Belfast sixpacks to be seen in this book, although there is battle and there is also death. But like other able crime writers who moonlight in the realm of children's literature, McKinty is quite capable of writing a tale of derring do and adventure that is suited to younger readers. Personally, I think this trilogy is a perfect recommendation for middle graders who have run through the Percy Jackson and Alex Rider books. What stood out for me in this first book on the sheer excitement level was a certain kind of sea going vessel that McKinty has dreamt up along with a wholly plausible way to fight it. The story in fact, cries out to be animated. It could really be quite stunning in the right hands.

Another strong point of the story from my perspective is that though two of the main characters are boys, there is also a female lead who is independent, capable and not always in agreement with the others on the best course of action. In other words, it's not all just battles and there should be plenty of elements that girls will relate to too.

But enough about child readers and the child reader in all of us. What's in it for adults? Some things that stood out to me were the fact that it's a story that really begins three times, and in three very different settings. We start in Harlem, and then we start again in Northern Ireland. The third start I'll leave for you to discover.

The main character, Jamie O'Neill has recently had to come to terms with losing a large part of his arm to cancer. But he has not only lost an arm, he's lost a father to the process, and at least for the time being has lost his ability to speak. I found the connection between these things fascinating to contemplate, the more so as the author does not give any facile explanation as to why this should be so. Jamie's muteness simply is. It is not sullenness, as Jamie does manage to communicate by other means. But there is some implication that speech comes out of wholeness and as the novel starts, Jamie has by no means been made whole again after his various losses, despite the fact that he has suddenly come into a pretty grand inheritance.

Another thing that is a true pleasure for the American reader is to get a new view of Northern Ireland, as we have all been filled with certain kinds of image of the place, even when the time for that image is long since past. Thanks to fellow blogger Philip Robinson, who shares a background and fondness for this part of the world with McKinty, we have a couple of old photos of the Northern Irish setting of one part of the story.
According to Philip, the following photo is captioned:

Port Muck and Muck Island.
There are puzzling remnants of a castle keep, above McClelland's farm, overlooking the harbour. The jetty was built 1827 when almost 100 herring boats fished these waters. Horse's cave on the island kept smuggled animals hidden while awaiting shipment.

And of the following, Philip says: "The second photo is of Blackhead lighthouse which is just a few miles down the coast - at the bottom end of Islandmagee, where Adrian's sister lives. He cleverly puts the lighthouse on the island in the story. And there is a shingle causeway out to the island which is only visible at very low tides.

By the way, Islandmagee is not an island but a peninsula about 5 miles east of Carrickfergus."


Thank you, Philip.

As for the rest, I think I'll leave the book some of its secrets. The truth is, I've already finished the sequel, which is also terrific and am pacing myself on the third as, well,  that's the end, isn't it?


  1. Thanks for the free PR Seana.

    That indeed is my sister's house in the lower photograph. Although it doesn't have that mock Tudor planking nowadays.

    For one reason and another I've been over to Muck Island dozens of times. Its a great spot if you're interesting in bird watching. Port Muck is a lovely little hamlet.

  2. You're welcome, but it's nothing. I've been meaning to write it up for awhile, and to use Philip's photos. One small drawback of the books is that we never spend quite enough time in the Muck Island environs as I'd like--not that I mind where the stories head to. It's just a nice little window on that place and time.

    I'll mention Muck Island to the birders I know. And I do know a few.

  3. I think I can be objective here. #2 is the best of the books. #1 is a little too baggy, #3 is a little too brusque, but #2 is where I think I got it almost right.

  4. You've said that before, but really, I think No.1 is very nice. The kids remain consistently engaging throughout both books.

  5. My son, Fergus loved the book before he knew anything about Muck Island. When I took him last year to see the places he said 'cool'. As I suppose 'cool' now means what we used to call 'magic' it is certainly to be recommended as you say.
    Oh, and in case American readers are put off by the 'foreign' setting, (although they shouldn't be), it really doesn't matter to the story, which starts with Jamie at home in America anyway.
    Great book and excellent review.

  6. Americans love Ireland in my experience, so that's not a problem. They are still a litle leery of but fascinated by the North, and I think this book would help to dispel some anxieties about going there.

  7. You have really made me curious. I wonder whether this one is something for my younger daughter (and perhaps also for me). She loves classical British children´s books, and this one sounds as if it has some of the same literary qualities.

  8. I think it's a pretty safe bet she'd like it--it's not very girly, and it is a bit science fictiony, but if she likes books about kids going off on quests and things, she'll probably like this. They are attractive books physically, too. Nice typeface.

    People who already know Adrian's writing through his much more edgy crime fiction or his highly opinionated blog may be surprised that his prose is so restrained here. It suits the tale.