Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August's Book: Dead I Well May Be

Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty
Crime (2003 - 306 pp.)

Dead I Well May Be is Northern Irish author Adrian McKinty's first published novel. The narrator is Michael Forsythe, a 19-year old Northern Irish gangster fresh off the boat in New York City, in 1992. Although Irish-American gangsters were more 1920s fare, events in late 20th-century Northern Ireland give an impetus for renewed gang warfare. McKinty presents the NYC of the period as a tough, ruthless place where Forsythe fits into Darkey White's Irish gang. Colourful characters like Sunshine and Scotchy take up commanding posts in the gang.

Unending action is the main hallmark of the book. Every few pages, someone is getting shot, or some new fact comes to light, or a relationship is made or ruined. Some of it gets unrealistic to the point that the reader wonders if Michael is an unrealiable narrator, such as Michael's journey through the American Southwest, but it always entertains. Violence-wise, there's a Belfast six-pack, a near-beheading, various gang scuffles, and so many betrayals it becomes nearly impossible to tell who's loyal to whom. In keeping with my general rule against spoilers, I'm not giving page citations for any of those.

McKinty also has a great sense of humour. During a childhood flashback, Michael and his brother visit their neighbours the Millers for a haircut, which leads to Michael gawking at a calendar model (137) and eventually talking back to Mr. Miller. (140) Semi-frequent interactions with Michael's neighours in NYC like Ratko and Danny the Drunk lead to funny events, such as when Ratko's wife serves "sausage so undercooked an bloody I was sure it was a chastisement". (196) At one point, Michael blames the violence in Northern Ireland on poor weather. (61) I occasionally broke down laughing while reading, which was awkward both in that I was clearly reading a crime novel and most of my reading was on public transit.

Dead I Well May Be occasionally overexplains. Early in the book, Michael takes half a page giving the reader miscellaneous bits of information demonstrating that it is indeed 1992. (8) That said, McKinty is adept at using sidebars to flesh out Michael's opinions of his surroundings. Characters who die are frequently referred to in the present tense, talking about who they are at the time of Michael observing them rather than who they were in memory, making many deaths surprising. Even when Michael jumps ahead hundreds of pages, saying things like "[X] happened [Y], but I'm getting ahead of myself", it doesn't spoil the future events. Sometimes the asides are insightful, such as when Michael comments on the luxury of certain prison cells (107) or conversion rates for the brutality rates of different countries' prisons. (110) A description of Michael making Ulster fry (270) makes me want to try it myself.

Something I lost track of after the first few pages, but enjoyed throughout in a campy way, is Michael's almost constant use of the word "wee". I smiled whenever I read it. Even a barracks is at one point called "wee". It makes me think of the famous scene in The Simpsons when Groundskeeper Willie retires mid-afternoon for "a wee nip and a wee nap". By the end of Dead I Well May Be, all the surviving characters could really use exactly that.

Ease of Reading: 8
Educational Content: 2

ASIDE: When's the movie coming out? I'd love to go see it.

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