Tag Archives: irish

Book Review: Headstone by Ken Bruen

Title: Headstone
Author: Ken Bruen
Publisher: Mysterious Press
ISBN: 978-0802126009
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Off late I have been devouring mysteries as and when they have been coming my way and Headstone by Ken Bruen was one such book, which I could not stop reading till I finished it. This is the ninth book of Ken’s Irish Detective, Jack Taylor and from what I have read; the other books are also as good as this one.

I read Headstone over two nights and I must admit it did spook me to a large extent. The action starts from page one and doesn’t let go. A group of bored kids decide to target the weak and the disabled, using Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory to their sordid advantage. Jack’s friends are being targeted and he comes to know of it, when they start receiving headstones in the mail. The action takes place in Galway and Jack and his friends are not the ones to take this lying down. They are ready to take the fight to Headstone members.

The Taylor thriller was gory and exhilarating and I loved reading it. There was a lot of blood and guts being spewed in the book, however I enjoyed the writing style mainly because it isn’t easy to write a mystery and then combine it with gore and drama – all in one book.

Jack is a brilliantly etched character. Bruen has such great writing skills that it isn’t difficult to fall in love with this flawed protagonist – a whiskey drinker, a cop who knows his poetry and a conscience that flickers right throughout the book.

Headstone is a great crime noir novel. It is violent and interesting. It does not lose pace of the plot and yet there will be times when as a reader you would want to turn the pages for the quite obvious references and clues. I was totally taken in with the plot, the humour, the grit and the overall structure of the book. So will you I hope.

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Book Review: Solace by Belinda McKeon

Title: Solace
Author: Belinda McKeon
Publisher: Pan
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-0330532327
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This isn’t a book to choose if you want pace and plot: it’s a slow, gentle meditation, almost, on those classic literary themes: the tension between father and son, between the older generation and the younger, between the country and city, between family and individual, between dependence and autonomy. It is also the tale of a binding tragedy and the gulf of loneliness between them in today’s Ireland, slowly sinking into poverty and hardship.

The father is Tom Casey, a taciturn, withdrawn, hard-hit man, who is a farmer working in County Longford in Southern Ireland. He is the kind of man whose education is limited and he wants nothing more from life than what he already has. He belongs to the generation of men who believe themselves to be the king of their proverbial castle and every command of theirs should be adhered and obeyed – irrespective of it being right or wrong.

The person Tom connects least with is his son Mark, who as the book opens, is down from Dublin, visiting with his young daughter Aiofe, to help his father with the farm chores. The dynamics of the relationship between the father and the son are strained: Tom sees Mark as a sour human being, while Mark views his father as a cold and calculating human being. The strain of their relationship is felt through the entire Casey clan and this is all due to an incident that changed their entire course of lives.

I will not give away the incident even though it is a part of the prologue mainly because I feel that readers should discover most of the plot by themselves. Belinda’s writing is magical – not once did I find the need to keep the book away. The words are few and beyond, however the emotion is exact – it makes you empathize and think about the last time you were faced with such powerful and overwhelming emotions.

Solace is a book that will speak to you on different levels. For me, it made me realize and think back about the kind of relationship I shared with my father while I was growing up and it wasn’t easy. I could relate to a lot of passages and events describe and maybe that is the reason I could connect more. Solace is a book I would definitely recommend to all. Hope you are able to read and discover what I did.

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Solace: A Novel

Book Review: Winterland by Alan Glynn

Title: Winterland
Author: Alan Glynn
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0-312-57299-0
Genre: Crime
PP: 480 pages
Price: $16.00
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All of Dublin is excited about the construction of its first skyscraper, Richmond Plaza, especially billionaire land developer Paddy Norton who is the owner of Winterland Properties. He is good friends with Larry Bolger, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment who is his Party’s shoe in for prime minister. Norton’s associate, Noel Rafferty, a structural engineer working on the Richmond Plaza, is killed when his car crashes into a ravine. Noel’s sister Gina doesn’t believe his death was an accident. Somehow, it is related to the gangland murder of her drug dealing nephew who was also named Noel Rafferty. As Gina investigates her brother’s death, she learns that it is tied in with a similar car accident that occurred twenty-five years ago and killed Larry Bolger’s brother, Frank. Torture, murder and mayhem ensue as Gina’s investigation brings her closer to the shocking truth.

Alan Glynn’s “Winterland” is a soap opera-like crime drama that is brimming with action, suspense and mystery. However, the violence is very low key. There is a torture scene, but it is implicit rather than explicit. Only the aftermath is described. Foul language is kept to a minimum and there is surprisingly no sex. What I loved most about this novel is the excellent characterization. There is a wide assortment of believable characters from various socio economic backgrounds. The reader will find some admirable and some despicable. There is the slimy young drug lord, Terry Stack, who tortures his victims with electrical cables, and the elderly, affable James Vaughan who once worked for John Kennedy and is providing much of the financing for the Richmond Plaza.

My favorite character, and the reason why I adore “Winterland,” is Gina Rafferty, co-owner of Lucius Software. Independent, energetic, tenacious and brave, she refuses to accept her brother’s car accident at face value. On several occasions, this feisty, attractive software developer risks her life in order to discover the truth and avenge the deaths of her relatives. She is one of my favorite mystery novel heroines. (Another favorite of mine is Bess Crawford of Charles Todd’s “A Duty to the Dead.”) Gina is aided by her brother’s friend, Detective Superintendent Jackie Merrigan, and Mark Griffin who was a little boy when his family was slaughtered in the same car accident that killed politician Frank Bolger. There is an inkling of romance between Gina and Mark; unfortunately, it never reaches fruition because Mark spends a great deal of time in the hospital, leaving Gina at the mercy of thugs.

If Gina Rafferty is the protagonist, then wealthy Paddy Norton is definitely the antagonist or villain. Greedy, egotistical and conniving, his evilness is never fully comprehended by the reader until the novel’s closing pages. He will kill anyone who tries to prevent the construction of the controversial Richmond Plaza, which will serve as the crowning achievement of his career. Addicted to pain killers, he suffers from anxiety attacks. The guilt of his past sins weighs heavily on his nerves. For twenty-five years, he’s tried to suppress the events that surrounded the suspicious car accident that killed Frank. Now, history has repeated itself and the horror has returned in such a magnitude that even the strongest pills won’t assuage it.

The plot for “Winterland” appears to have been ripped from today’s headlines. There is always a scandal involving a politician who’s been having an affair or inappropriately using funds. Larry Bolger is one such politician. Furthermore, land is scarce. Unable to expand outward, many cities are expanding upward. Building skyscrapers is very trendy. It’s the new frontier. Thanks to a global economy, numerous countries invest in the building of a single skyscraper. In “Winterland,” Ray Sullivan is an American CEO for Amcan, the anchor company for Richmond Plaza. Also, global warming and the extreme weather that it can create plays a significant factor in this complex, plausible crime drama.

“Winterland” is a must read for fans of Irish noir and crime drama in general. Readers will be praying and hoping that Gina Rafferty will succeed in bringing her brother’s murderers to justice. Alan Glynn is also the author of “Dark Fields,” which will soon be released as a film from Universal. It is the story of a Manhattan copywriter, Eddie Spinola, who becomes quickly, and hopelessly, addicted to a powerful new drug, MDT-48, which increases intelligence. Eddie’s character reminds me of Paddy Norton in “Winterland”; he was addicted to pain killers. If you like Irish noir, then I highly recommend Stuart Neville’s “The Ghosts of Belfast” in which Gerry Fegan, former hit man for the IRA, must assassinate those responsible for murdering the innocent souls that haunt him.

Book Review: Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien

Title: Saints and Sinners: Stories
Author: Edna O’Brien
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571270316
Genre: Short Stories
PP: 224 Pages
Price: £12.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You’ll never get more black Irish than this, some without much humor, other with very dark and wonderful humor. And I write that as a compliment to the rich voice of this remarkable author. I have to confess that this is the first time I have read anything by Edna O’Brien. I must reform myself and read much more.

The opening story, “Shovel Kings,” takes the reader into the darkness of life both outside–specifically London–and inside Ireland, where life is sustained, if at all, by drink where these characters live in poverty and suffer from abuse, told to the narrator, awaiting an appointment with a psychotherapist, by Rafferty, an exile of sorts whose life could be summarized by this sentence in the story: “Nothing was wrong…but nothing was right, either.” I would say there was much that was wrong. As for the title, well it summarizes the existential lot of the Irish men who came to labor, for naught, in London.

In “Sinners,” aging Delia has “lost that most heartfelt rapport that she once had with God,” her prayers coming only from her lips, not “from deep within anymore.” Delia’s is an abode–that is also a small bed and breakfast–much in need of refreshing: wallpapers, paints, towels…everything. She is the mother of five, one dead, but they are like the wallpapers, faded images only, no longer present in her lonely life. Hers had not been a happy marriage, of course! Few are apparently in Edna O’Brien’s works. Is there any happiness in any Irish households? One wonders when reading these brilliant stories.

In “Madame Cassandra” Millie speaks in first person outside the caravan carrying Madame Cassandra, the gypsy seer, who appears not to wish to met with Millie–and the reader soon learns why. Millie reveals this about her past: “I cannot tell you what a relief it is to be here…to be able to let off a little steam.” A little steam??!! Oh, no, this is a woman filled with wrath. And, of course, the sbuject of her discourse, filled with allusions to various mythologies, is her errant husband.

Okay! When these two sentences soon reveal themselves in “Black Flowers,” “She didn’t know him very well. She had volunteered to give painting lessons in the prison in the Midlands where he was serving a long sentence,” then you know you’re in for a good read.

I could write a lot more about this collection of stories, but hopefully this is enough of a taste so that you will want to order a copy. This is a collection of excellently written short stories from a great author. They are not action packed and there are no car chases, but the writing is good quality and interesting. It is an excellent book to dip in and out of if you have only short bursts of time to spend relaxing with a good book – the short journey to work or even a trip to the bathhroom – come all; we all read on the toilet! I bought the book after listening ton interview with Edna O’Brien on the radio and have loved it. I can fully recommend it to anyone that likes good literature and relaxing.

The Newton Letter by John Banville

I had borrowed this book from the library a long long time ago and I somehow happened to pick it up after like 3 books and read it in a span of two days! This was the first time I was venturing to read a Banville and thank god, I did decide to pick it up. A short novella – around 97 pages and riveting!

This book is a letter written by the narrator – who is nameless and has entered the Irish countryside to finish his book on Newton only to discover and re-discover his own denied passions and emotions. His cottage is situated in a place called Fern house where he encounters a strange lot of people – Edward, Charlotte, Edward’s Sister Diana and her husband Tom, Ottilie – Charlotte’s so-called niece and little Michael. As the narrator gets engrossed in their lives, he loses focus of the book, only to drown it. This is a classic juxtaposition of how Newton one fine day gave up on science and took to alchemy.

This book is one of a kind and when I say this, I really mean it. Banville conjures a mystery, a love story, a discovery sometimes and beauty of language so rare these days in most novels – and where else can one find such a combination and being told in 97 pages!! Wow!!