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.