Review: Thriller: Bloodland by Alan Glynn
Faber & Faber £12.99
Published 03/09/2011 | 05:00
I grew up on the American thriller tradition that was pioneered by Dashiell Hammett in the late 1920s and early 1930s, developed by Raymond Chandler in the late 1930s and early 1940s and subsequently tweaked by such masters as Ross McDonald, John D McDonald, Ed McBain, Charles Willeford, Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block.
Each of these writers had his own unmistakable style but there was a shared acknowledgment of how long a thriller should be if it was to hold the reader's interest -- seldom more than 200 pages, or between 60,000 and 80,000 words.
Given this self-imposed straitjacket, the reader didn't expect a profound exploration of character -- being content instead with vividly realised characters, all more or less conforming to the expectations created by the genre; the engagingly flawed private eye (usually the narrator) seeking truth and justice; the alluring but possibly treacherous heroine; and the various lowlifes along the way with murder on their minds.
And most of the plots that were the engines of these books, no matter how ingeniously worked out, were just as formulaic -- though the narrative voice was generally so sardonic and entertaining that you didn't really notice.
Another characteristic shared by these thrillers is that the locale in which they were set was invariably local -- whether California, Detroit, Florida or New York -- and its villains were domestic, too, whether crime bosses, venal speculators or family members with dark secrets.
Today's thrillers, on the other hand, tend towards the global, evil being represented by sinister corporations rather than vicious individuals; and they tend towards the verbose, too -- baggy blockbusters that often confuse length with substance.
Dublin-born Alan Glynn's third thriller -- following the success of 2001's The Dark Fields (made this year into the movie Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro) and Winterland in 2009 -- is very much in the current mould, running to an indulgent 412 pages and taking in such disparate locations as Dublin, London, Verona, New York and the Congo.
Indeed, as you're reading it, you can picture the movie negotiations, with Matt Damon weighing up his options.
Perhaps he's too old, though, to play the book's hero, 20-something Dublin freelance journalist Jimmy Gilroy, who's writing a hack biography of cocaine-addicted soap star and helicopter crash victim Susie Monaghan.
Told by drunken ex-Taoiseach Larry Bolger that the crash was no accident and that someone else on the plane other than Susie was the real target, Jimmy finds himself encountering a variety of shady characters -- from ruined property speculator Dave Conway and seedy PR fixer Phil Sweeney to billionaire US mining CEO Clark Rundle, his Democratic presidential hopeful brother JJ and barbarous Congolese warlord Colonel Kimbela.
What has Jimmy got himself into? And how will he discover the truth? Think John le Carre's The Constant Gardener.
Think Charles McCarry's espionage series of novels. Think the George Clooney movie Syriana. Indeed, think any number of globe-trotting thrillers, whether on the page or the screen.
Glynn's book, then, is just as formulaic as most of its kind, and without the saving grace that such unerring prose stylists and expert scene-setters as Le Carre and McCarry have brought to such narratives.
Indeed, the writing is both slack and anonymous. And while some of the Irish characters are good creations -- the boozed and unravelling