Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Books: Rolling in the Isles

In light of the holiday, it’s time to be thankful for two new books by two favorite authors. Neither of whom is American and will consequently be celebrating Thanksgiving, but that’s beside the point.

The first two novels by Stuart Neville prominently featured Gerry Fegan, a one-time IRA gunman plagued by unearthly visitations. Stolen Souls shifts the focus to Fegan’s pursuer, Ulster cop Inspector Jack Lennon. Galya, a young Ukrainian girl smuggled into Belfast and forced to work as a prostitute, kills one of her captors and escapes. The dead man’s brother swears vengeance. Galya, meanwhile, seeks refuge with a man who offered to assist her – only to discover that her savior has his own definition of help. And Lennon, the one person with a chance of actually doing Galya some good, is dealing with fallout from his earlier actions that threaten his family.

With this book, Neville doesn’t change protagonists so much as acknowledge that his real character is Belfast itself, a city riven by corruption and mistrust in the wake of the Troubles. The plot is complex but never confusing, the action brutal and grim, the pace lightning fast. And Neville still manages to include notes of the supernatural that feel organic and uniquely Irish. It’s a potent combination and a ferociously good book.

Dead Money, the latest by your friend and mine Ray Banks, represents something new and something old. One of the maiden releases from ebook publisher Blasted Heath, it’s also a complete revision of Ray’s first novel The Big Blind. Alan Slater has a job he’s not particularly proud to be good at (double-glazing salesman), a wife to whom he’s not particularly faithful, a dog of which he’s not particularly fond, and a best friend in Les Beale who gets on his fucking nerves. All of them will have a role in Alan’s downfall. Foremost among them Les, who hatches a foolhardy scheme to get ahead that Alan will end up participating in whether he wants to or not. There’s great sales material here, especially Alan’s “sugar sit,” that turns the book into a kind of Glengarry Glenfiddich. There’s also a steadily escalating sense that Alan is on his way to hell, and it’s because he wants to be. It’s Banks, so there’s an annoyingly perfect balance of humor and darkness. It’s Blasted Heath, so it’s yours for a song. And it’s good, so you should be reading it now.