2020 Grateful 20: Caimh McDonnell and Bunny McGarry

I’ve often wondered if authors get lost in the shadows of their protagonists? A case in point – I know sod all about Caimh McDonnell, but I feel like I know his guy Bunny McGarry personally. I hit upon the pair a while back when the first in the four-book Dublin Trilogy popped up on my Bookhub feed. A Man with One of Those Faces had me from the start. You couldn’t make Paul Mulchrone up – but McDonnell did. And what an unfortunate he is, blessed with the type of face that could make him anyone’s long lost relative.

He had nothing that came close to qualifying as a distinguishing anything. His every facial attribute was a masterpiece of bloody-minded unoriginality, an aesthetic tribute to the forgettably average. Collectively they formed an orchestra designed to produce the facial muzak of the gods.

He hooks up with a nurse, Brigit Conroy, and the pair get tangled up with Garda Bunny McGarry, a Corkman who rules Dublin with his hurley and trains a local hurling team. I was laughing out loud. McDonnell’s writing reminded me of Christopher Lamb except that it is utterly credibly Irish.  Cleopatra Loves Books wrote a great review.

With the Dublin Trilogy, I did something I rarely do – I read them out of order. Or more accurately skipped one altogether. Book 3 Angels in the Moonlight popped up in my feed some months later and I was back with McGarry as he discovered love and Jazz. I’ve yet to read Book 2 and I doubt I will – I don’t like going back. It’s rare that books in a series keep up the pace – there’s nearly always one that isn’t quite as good as, but McDonnell’s wit is relentless. Book 4 Last Orders is a classic. I’m missing Dublin thanks to COVID but I was back there with every turn of the page. I’m missing the Irish humour, but I was laughing out loud more often than not. What makes it real for me is that McDonnell writes in the third person – each chapter is a visit inside the head of one of the characters. The attachment is there. I shut the book with a profound sense of loss – it was like waving goodbye to old friends as they emigrated  – or I emigrated.

Then himself told me that McDonnell’s Stateside series picks up with the bould Bunny in New York. I immediately downloaded Disaster Inc and I Have Sinned.

I found myself repeating lines aloud, trying to commit them to memory so that I could use them later.

He was every unfair cliché of accountants wrapped up into one dandruff-coated stereotype.

And for all the joking around, there’s the occasional piece of wisdom that I’ve filed away to for further reflection or at least to trot out when I need to balance the stupidity with a knob of nous.

Still, that was another lesson he’d learned: even if the words didn’t sink in at the time you said them, they would still be there, floating around. When the right time came, all you could hope for was that they’d land and make a difference.

Disaster Inc introduces Diller and Smithy, McGarry’s unlikely US sidekicks. I Have Sinned brings the return of the mad nuns we met in Angels in the Moonlight. And I can only hope that the next in the series, promised for 2020, has Zola leaving the house and Emilio reaching Banksy fame.

I’ve been known to get attached to the main guys – Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, John D. MacDonald’s Travis Magee, Brian Haig’s Sean Drummond – but it’s rare that I am so taken with the main cast of characters. Okay, there was Merrill – John Jordan’s bestie in the series by Michael Lister and more so Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series with Morelli, Ranger, Lula, Grandma Mazur, Diesel. But McDonnell goes a step beyond. Maybe it’s because they’re Irish. But that wouldn’t explain the Stateside characters. I dunno. What he does is so real.

Billed as the Whitehaired Irishman, McDonnell was born in Limerick, raised in Dublin, and made his home in Manchester. He’s a novelist, a TV writer, and a comedian. And his books are just waiting to be made into movies. I will be EXTREMELY disappointed if Brendan Gleeson isn’t cast as Bunny McGarry. Just saying.

This past week wasn’t great. It began with saying Gutbai to old mate living in LA, segued into an online memorial for another, and ended with me postponing my flight home because Kildare is in lockdown. Bunny McGarry kept me sane. And if you’ve read the books, you’ll know how mad that is. Thanks lads – am grateful.

More on the Grateful Series.


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