It's more than four months old, but it's still worth reading...
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty
In 2003, a new sort of crime fiction protagonist slipped into our midst, much as he had slipped illegally into the U.S. in the fictional realm. The book was Dead I Well May Be and the hero, or anti-hero, was Michael Forsythe, a young guy hailing from the environs of Belfast. A small, wiry guy, (at least the way I pictured him) you probably wouldn't have noticed him on the streets of New York, where he did the dirtywork for an Irish gang, but he turned out to be a figure to be reckoned with, as his enemies (and readers of the three Dead trilogy novels) would shortly come to know. Those who have been lucky enough to happen upon these books have been clamoring for more Michael Forsythe ever since. His tough, indeed ruthless way of achieving his ends was counterbalanced by his wit, his literary sensibilities, and his vulnerability, a kind of too open stance despite his bravado, which readers seem to have picked up on. When all's said and done, he's a thug, but readers do not love Michael Forsythe for this, but despite it. You may thrill to his acts of derring-do, but all the while understand that from the beginning his path is not so much a choice as a fate.
So, although McKinty has warned fans that his latest novel, Falling Glass, includes Forsythe, but without a starring role, he's still worth considering here as a background, a prime mover, or something more elemental, like the weather. This is Killian's book, not Michael's and I believe readers will be happy it is so. But it's still worth keeping Forsythe in mind, and possibly even read a Dead trilogy novel or two first if you haven't, because it's useful to have the Michael Forsythe frame of reference when you're considering Killian's alternatives. Let's just say that Forsythe is not incidental to the novel, but crucial to it.
Killian has traveled down much the same road as Forsythe. In fact, at a fateful meeting in an early novel, Killian failed to protect someone from Forsythe, which led to one man's death and allowed Forsythe to live to tell--or not tell--the tale. Killian has left his past in the Irish tinker culture to commit petty and not so petty crime for a number of years, but the advent of the Celtic tiger prosperity had allowed him to dream of the straight life, just as the departure of prosperity is now leaving him little option but to do 'one more job' in order to sort out his own financial nightmares.
The successful dispatch of one job quickly leads to the offer of another even more lucrative task. And it's to be a good deed, isn't it? Rescue two wee bairns from their drug addicted mother, who has broken custody rights and fled with them. Although Killian half-heartedly asks a time or two why the police haven't been called in, the money is too good to really ask this question seriously.
The fact that Killian is a tinker is not incidental to the tale, nor just a bit of colorful lore, thrown in. To be a tinker is to take part in the nomadic life of the human race, which belongs to a different value system than the settled peoples of the world entirely. It is a last remnant of oral culture, and is tied, as McKinty does tie it, to Homeric times and Homeric values. I found this rumination on a non-capitalistic culture surviving within a capitalistic one very thought provoking, especially in the context of the bust that followed the Irish boom. Killian starts the novel with a bunch of useless apartments, a one time seemingly sound investment that, as for so many, has turned out to be at best a headache and at worst a nightmare. By the midpoint of the story, he has reconnected to his tinker past, and gradually finds his true identity among them. That identity includes songs, fairs, fests, but also true honor and true hospitality.
I found myself thinking a lot about Laurens Van der Post's work, both fiction and nonfiction, on the culture of the Bushmen. It was not only white settlers who were their enemies, he claimed, but settled black Africans as well. At the time, I thought that it was because these two culture's were antithetical, but something about McKinty's book made me understand that the tinkers and Bushmen and the Romany gypsies are not so much opposites of our culture, as simply a past that has been despised and repressed. It seems like it might be a good time for that repressed to return.
Lest I give you any impression that this is not a crime novel, it certainly is. It's a fast-paced tale featuring more than one foe for Killian and more than one decision to make about where he really stands. Killian is no pacifist, and he has occasion to take up a weapon or two before the course of the book has run. But the superb ending is a duel of another order, and one well worth waiting for.
(I'm editing this to add some links to other reviews I've held off on reading till I was done myself :)