Monday 25 September 2017

Review: Fiction: Ghost Town by Michael Clifford

Hachette Ireland, £13,99, pbk, 384 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
Michael Clifford arrives with aplomb as a fiction writer, says Eilis O’Hanlon

Forensic fictional
aplomb:
Michael Clifford
Forensic fictional aplomb: Michael Clifford
Forensic fictional aplomb: Michael Clifford

Eilis O’Hanlon

Future generations can be forgiven for wondering when it apparently became compulsory for Irish journalists to start writing crime novels. Perhaps when crime fiction itself became the ubiquitous genre of the age?

Latest to join the ranks is Michael Clifford, former Sunday Tribune political writer, and author of previous bestsellers on Ireland's wife killers and Bertie Ahern's so-called "Drumcondra Mafia".

In a way, his first novel picks up and extends the themes already explored in that earlier non-fiction.

I'm not sure his publishers will thank me for saying so, but Ghost Town reads less like a thriller and more like a chronicle of a period in Irish life when property was the "new sex" and "it was nearly your national duty to take out a loan".

Not all were implicated to the extent of solicitor, Donal Diggins, who's gone on the run after embezzling millions from his clients, but that's Clifford's point too.

Diggins is merely the manifestation of a general disorder; politics, economics, and crime are different faces of the same dirty dice. The ones who wore suits whilst committing crimes may be offended to be bracketed with the hoodlums, but they ruined lives all the same.

It's a familiar trope by now, this idea that "respectable" criminals and ones bearing guns are exactly the same.

The natural response when encountering it again is to say: "Well, not really..." Murder is still murder, after all.

But as a literary device, it works highly effectively, allowing a common thread to link Clifford's large cast of characters as they all converge in search of a three million euro hoard which Diggins has squirrelled away for a rainy day and which he now wants his wife Noelle to pick up and bring to him in London.

Add in a down-on-his-luck crime reporter desperate for a scoop, and a small-time crook called Dancer who's just returned from a stint at Her Majesty's pleasure in England and is keen both to find his son and stay out of the way of his former associates, and all the elements are in place for a compelling odyssey into the dark heart of a country where it pays to "carry suspicion around like a spare shirt" and "the money gets paid back or somebody doesn't come home".

Ghost Town is a journalist's book in the best sense of the word, deploying Michael Clifford's skill at reportage to forensic fictional aplomb, though typically he doesn't let his fellow hacks off the hook either.

Apparently some of us even have "terrible dress sense" and could do with "a course in personal hygiene". The cheek of the man. He's not going to get many good reviews from his colleagues with insults like that.

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