Wednesday 21 March 2018

Stylish tale takes on Cork's grim underworld

Fiction: The Blood Miracles, Lisa McInerney, John Murray, €11.99

Shandon and the southern captial, as seen from atop St Patrick's Hill
Shandon and the southern captial, as seen from atop St Patrick's Hill
The Blood Miracles

JP O' Malley

A new wave of female Irish writers have taken the world by storm in recent years. Eimear McBride's debut 2013 novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing for instance, won both the Goldsmiths Prize and the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Lisa McInerney, a Galway- based writer, has followed a similar trajectory. Her debut 2015 novel The Glorious Heresies scooped the Baileys and the Desmond Elliott Prize, too. Although McBride and McInerney are about as close in style as Proust is to Pulp Fiction.

With its roots in high modernism and the avant-garde, McBride's work appeals to a more highbrow literary- minded audience. McInerney's more accessible form of storytelling, meanwhile, is likely to attract a mass-market mainstream readership.

In McInerney's first book - which told the story of an accidental murder in the heart of Cork city's dark world of tough guys, criminals, peddlers, pushers and gangsters - we were introduced to Ryan Cusack: a 15-year-old petty drug dealer who is coming of age. Back then, we learned that Ryan was falling in love with his girlfriend Karine; that he had an alcoholic father called Tony; and that he got nine months to a young offenders' institution.

The Blood Miracles picks up five years later. Ryan's interest in drug dealing has, to put it mildly, moved up a notch. The 20-year-old is now a key player in a lucrative ecstasy and MDMA global market. Ryan's inner circle-Shakespeare, Pender, Cooney and Feehily - all report to Dan Kane: a man about town who has a penchant for putting too much Charlie up his nose, but who knows how to run a tight-knit operation.

The first hundred or so pages of this stylish novel-that's bursting with swagger, humour and confidence - is a slow burner. Most scenes are set in dimly lit nightclubs, the rented bedrooms of newly built soulless apartment complexes, or the quiet snugs of local Cork pubs.

Characters are usually off their head on weed, pills, or anything else they can get their hands on to lift them out of their depressing existence. We get intricate details of where operations are headed; who's informing on who; how smooth or disastrous each drug trade is, and how it could be possibly improved. Communication between these men is a zero sum game, where the stakes are always risky.

McInerney takes her time reacquainting the reader with the wide cast of characters from The Glorious Heresies. And the rather complex narrative needs ample time to set up. Then there is the small matter of Ryan's complicated love life. This kick-starts the narrative into fifth gear, when Dan learns that Ryan is messing around with his mistress, Natalie.

It's at this point, too, that Jimmy Phelan - one of the older but meaner members of the Cork criminal underworld - makes it known to Ryan that he's going to knock Dan off his throne.

There isn't anything terribly original about the subject matter McInerney is using here to map out this novel.The lives of criminal gangsters have already been written about in exceptionally well-crafted detail, in TV series like Love/Hate, The Wire, and The Sopranos.

But original or not, McInerney's method works effectively. Primarily, because the themes she is grappling with here are ancient ones, and, arguably, as old as stories themselves: the moral dilemma to choose between good and evil; the path an individual must take in order to survive when the odds in life are stacked against them; and the appetite most humans have - subconsciously at least - for a primal form of extreme violence.

The Blood Miracles displays a writer who is mastering this cool-crime genre, and who presumably still has a great deal yet to offer her growing allegiance of loyal readers.

Sunday Indo Living

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment