2016 Grateful 6

I bought a washing machine a couple of months ago and every time I go play scrabble, Facebook throws out an ad for a washing machine. I’ve been reduced to venting my frustration at the ineptitude of its advertising algorithms by screaming at my laptop: I’ve already bought a bloody washing machine. I don’t need another!

I checked on flights to Barcelona recently and now, when I read an article online, ads pop up for cheap fights to the city. I detest Google and Facebook and all those other online entities who take my data and then feed me stuff they think I should want to know. Back in 2012, I wrote a post for Diplomacy.edu entitled Google… stop thinking for me.  Today, 2016, Google still ain’t listening.

But occasionally, just occasionally, I get a result.

Had my e-book leak1nding library not compiled data on my preferences and tracked my reading patterns, I might never have met Adrian McKinty, an Irish novelist, born in Belfast in 1968. An obviously intelligent bloke – law at the University of Warwick and politics and philosophy at the University of Oxford – it comes through in his novels. After a spell State-side (Harlem, New York, and Denver, Colorado where he taught high-school English) he’s now living in Melbourne, Australia. I’d never heard of him. His name didn’t ring even the tiniest of bells. But everything else I was ak2looking for was taken so when one of his books popped up on a list of recommended reading, I checked it out. 

Three books, a train journey, and seven days later, I’ve finished the Dead Trilogy and have become quite partial to Michael Forsythe, the main character. I’ve learned more about the Troubles in Northern Ireland than I ever did from a history book. I’ve gotten an insight into the phenomenon of Irish gangs in New York. I’ve felt the senseless stupidity of exacting a grudge-like revenge. I’ve gotten some sense of the futility of life when ideology clouds reason and turns logic into the lyrics of a song that plays like a broken record.

I was born the year the Troubles began, in 1968. That world of violence was all I knew – people murdered, maimed, kneecapped, bombed. I don’t remember a time without a major atrocity of some kind every week.
I think if you grow up in a culture where the army is out on the street sighting you with rifles, it has to have some kind of psychological impact.

Told in the first person, the trilogy rings true. Quite possibly because McKinty is writing about a world with which he is all too familiar. The path Forsythe takes might well have been a path he could have taken himself, had things been different.

In the crime fiction section, you may just find a novel that talks about the place where you’re from and speaks to you about your life – or the life yours could have become if a little misfortune had come your way.

ak3Occasionally, the narrative skips ahead a few years, with Forsythe talking about what he would do in the future and far from annoying me and ruining the suspense, it alleviated the worry .Yes, of course, I knew it’s a trilogy and he had to be alive at least until the third one started, but these occasional reminders did the heart good as the battle raged.
The murals and the walls in Belfast now wear a different paint. Memories of a night in a Working Man’s Club in Andersonstown all those years ago came flashing back. Marion Coyle, Eddie Gallagher, Rose Dugdale, Dominic ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey – all household names in our gaff in the 1970s. The Sundays in July when my dad would head out in full uniform to Bodenstown Cemetery where the Republicans convened for their annual pilgrimage at Wolfe Tone’s graveside. It was all there but yet not there. Real but at the same time very unreal. A sense of unfulfilled anticipation for which we were grateful.
I love the trilogy form. I like the idea that you can establish a character in book one. And then in the second part, you can take the characters down to their darkest point. And then in the third part, you have total freedom either to give them redemption – or just to kill them.

And he did. All that. And more. McKinty has a lovely turn of phrase, a noir-type mastery of dialogue, and a bevvy of descriptives that beg a second savouring.So this week, for once, I’m grateful for the algorithm that coughed up this trilogy. Worth a read. Definitely worth a read.

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