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by Alan Glynn
Picador, May 2013
400 pages
ISBN: 0312621299

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Though might be a bit misleading to call Alan Glynn's three "Land" novels (WINTERLAND, BLOODLAND, and GRAVELAND) a trilogy, they are certainly linked by more than the pattern of the titles. Glynn is an Irish novelist, and WINTERLAND was set wholly in his homeland, just as the famed Celtic Tiger was losing its roar. Some of the characters who had cameo roles in that book move closer to centre stage in BLOODLAND and now in GRAVELAND, the spotlight is firmly on them. The action spirals outward from WINTERLAND as well, from the Republic to Europe, the Congo, and the United States. GRAVELAND is set wholly in New York, primarily in the city, in the world of high finance and international corporations of broad and mysterious power and reach.

Like BLOODLAND, this is told in a series of short bursts of narrative focussed on a particular character. The reader knows that they will link up in time, but at the moment, we wonder how, for example, Frank Bishop, a former architect made redundant by the financial crisis and now scraping out a living managing an electronics store in a dying shopping mall, can possibly be connected to an assassinated investment banker and a magazine journalist whose first appearances flank his. Nor is that the only assassination. A hedge fund manager is next, gunned down on Columbus Avenue while waiting for his car to arrive. There will be a third, and unsuccessful, attempt on the life of the head of a private equity firm.

Nothing really seems to connect the three attacks and the police are left to probe the private lives of the victims. Competing for the public attention is the ongoing and lurid coverage of the trial of Connie Carillo, a senator's daughter and ex-wife of a mob boss for the murder of her present husband, an investment banker. But magazine journalist Ellen Dorsey thinks there must be a more immediate connection. She's desperate for a breaking story as her career has inexplicably stalled following her collaboration with Irish reporter Jimmy Grindle in exposing a scandal involving an American presidential candidate, described at the end of BLOODLAND.

Ellen settles down to exercise her research skills in a stirring demonstration of what patience, intelligence, and a judicious use of the internet can do. It leads her to the college where Frank Bishop's daughter is a student and their paths cross. From there, the narrative spins back to New York, to focus on some desperate young terrorists holed up in a flat on the Lower East Side. Although this book was completed well before the Boston Marathon bombing, two of these bear an eerie resemblance to the brothers responsible for that attack.

Brooding over it all is a figure from the earlier novels, James Vaughan, chairman of the Oberon Capital Group, eighty-four years old and feeling every year of it. He in turn is being watched like a hawk by his second-in-command, Craig Howley, a character of the type that Glynn so excels in presenting - a toxic combination of vaulting ambition and deep-rooted insecurity. And just because Glynn hates waste, Vaughan carries us back not only to the first two novels in the series, but to Glynn's own debut, the sci-fi novel now re-issued as LIMITLESS.

There's more, much more, but the book never seems overloaded with plot or overactive with invention. If there is anything that disappoints about GRAVELAND, it is merely that it repeats the successes of the previous book in the group. Whereas BLOODLAND blasted through the parameters of WINTERLAND, GRAVELAND does not extend the boundaries of its immediate predecessor very far. But it is well-titled. The matters that Glynn explores are grave indeed - widespread corruption, limitless greed, the almost hopeless pursuit of truth in an easily distracted world, and most tellingly, the degree to which every one of us is thoroughly involved in it all. It is a smashing read - timely, relevant, exciting, ambitious, and ultimately quite moving.

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

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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