Crime: Blood For Blood by JM Smyth
Black And White Publishing, €9.99
It’s an increasingly common feature of modern thrillers that sections of the story will be seen or narrated through the eyes of the killer. Belfast-born, Louth-based JM Smyth’s second novel — following on from Quinn, which was shortlisted for a Crime Writers Association award — is told almost exclusively from the point of view of its disturbed villain. Years ago, Red Dock and his brother were sent to an industrial school in the west of Ireland. At the age of nine, Sean is kicked to death by a sadistic Christian Brother. Now Red is out for revenge against the people he blames for placing them there. He concocts an elaborate, slow-burning plan, kidnapping the baby daughter of the Garda sergeant who took them to the school, putting her in the care of nuns, and then waiting years to frame her for murder.
He’s a psychopath, without empathy or human feeling. He kills not only the “guilty” but anyone connected to them or who gets in his way, in a variety of ugly ways. There is no such thing as innocence to Dock. The concept has been brutalised out of him.
Smyth sets up no fancy screen to shield us from his mind; he simply lays it bare. It leads to a visceral and brutal narrative, which veers at times into what feels like gratuitous nastiness. It has the air of a Martin Scorsese or Sam Peckinpah film. Violence is always simmering below the surface. When it erupts, it’s never surprising, but it shocks every time. This will appeal to many readers, but will be off-putting to others. Blood For Blood may be too bleak, but it’s relentlessly original.
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