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by Alan Glynn
Picador, January 2012
384 pages
ISBN: 0312621280

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ever since Jimmy Gilroy was made redundant at his newspaper a couple of years ago, he has been scratching a living as he can by freelancing. Now he's landed a significant contract, which, while hardly of the political weight or intellectual heft of his former journalism, at least promises to keep the pot bubbling nicely for a while. He's to undertake the biography of Susie Monaghan, a young actress famous mostly for being famous, who died tragically three years ago in a helicopter crash on the Irish coast, along with several other passengers. The whole enterprise seems straightforward enough - the book is destined for the Christmas market and meant to sell well and disappear without a trace. Why then is Jimmy getting concerned calls suggesting he lay off?

When he is offered the chance to ghost the autobiography of the ex-Taoiseach (prime minister) Larry Bolger in exchange for abandoning the Susie project, Jimmy has a moment of doubt, but the attractions are too compelling. But the Susie story simply will not go away, and before very long, Jimmy is pulling at a thread that will ultimately unravel a conspiracy of global proportions.

BLOODLAND picks up where the previous WINTERLAND left off. The earlier book was grounded in Ireland in the aftermath of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger boom. This one takes the story outward, to powerful figures in international commerce and politics, an arena in which most of the Irish players seem somewhat at a disadvantage. Some of the characters from WINTERLAND make a reappearance. Now Bolger is no longer Taoiseach-in-waiting, but former prime minister and he doesn't like his present irrelevance one little bit. He also has a secret to keep from his time in office, and, as he is off the wagon, he's finding it hard to shut up about it. The powerful Jimmy Vaughan also is back, and though now 82, is as creepily effective as ever. Readers unfamiliar with the earlier book will not, however, be at any disadvantage, for this is less a sequel than an extension of the previous narrative.

Glynn is extraordinarily good at what he does. Technically, BLOODLAND is masterful. Each of the leading characters (and a couple of second-stringers) is followed in a short burst of pages, usually no more than three or four, all in the present tense and then attention moves to the next. Described this way, the whole enterprise sounds daunting, but in fact, this is how Glynn maintains both suspense and pace without needing to resort to the usual pyrotechnics of the conspiracy thriller.

The technique also allows us to comprehend the humanity, however flawed, of all the players. Unlike the seamlessly efficient purveyors of evil in the typical paranoid thriller, the characters who engage in the most appalling behaviour here are far too bent on protecting their interests to be in any way sympathetic but they are not impregnable. Every once in a while, one of them catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror and experiences a moment of truth. And occasionally, Glynn indicates a commonality between the best and the worst - Jimmy Gilroy and the most despicable character in the book both languish in the shadow of an admirable father.

By the time Glynn is done with it all, what began as an insignificant story in an Ireland desperate for diversion has unfolded to encompass Europe, Congo, the United States, a US presidential campaign, and the murky reach of international commerce. To say more would be to risk ruining it for the reader. Unfortunately, this sort of bare bones summary also runs the risk of making BLOODLAND appear just another escapist paranoid thriller. It isn't. It's a serious novel and it's about the world we all live in. Just read it. You'll see.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, January 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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