I discovered Adrian McKinty’s Hidden River in the early stages of my Celtic noir addiction, back when I thought I could quit whenever I wanted. Hidden River was a delight, not only because of its poetic prose and wounded protagonist, but because it took place in and around Denver. It’s always fun to see your hometown through a stranger’s eyes.
Next, I read McKinty’s Michael Forsythe series: Dead I Well may Be, The Dead Yard, and The Bloomsday Dead (no I don’t only read him for Joyce allusions). In that series, he created the ultimate action hero: Forsythe is a man with a heart and a conscience, but he’s also the angel of death. If he decides to kill you, you die, and he’s not afraid to lose a limb or two to make that happen.
McKinty’s latest, Falling Glass has everything I’ve come to expect from his books in particular and Celtic noir in general: lovely language, the struggle against oppressive violence that knows no side, tense chase scenes, healthy doses of fists, bullets, blood, and sexual tension. It even has Michael Forsythe.
Yet, Falling Glass also has something more.
Killian, a Pavee, left the caravans of his culture for a life of crime in the straight world. He quit that life to buy buildings and go to school. However, Ireland’s economic collapse returns him to the role of hired hand– or rather mouth. He’s an enforcer but does not carry a gun.
Whether Killian is convincing a gambler to sacrifice his house, cajoling an old flame into taking a check, or talking a mother on the run into trusting him, Killian wins with words. Usually.
His nemesis, Starshyna, is another hired enforcer whose skill lies in his concentrated and dispassionate brutality.
Strung between them, Rachel, mother, junkie, and reluctant lady justice, contemplates her dwindling options while staring down her pistol’s icy barrel .
These three points converge and the result is less about who wins, who loses, whose secrets are kept, and whose exposed, than it is about identity and each character’s decision to live (and perhaps die) as who they really are.
Starshyna is Killian’s nemesis, but Michael Forsythe is his opposite. The final pages of Falling Glass elevate their character differences to a philosophical divide. This divide transcends the narrative and becomes Joyce’s mirror held up to reflect the world we’ve made.
Who will carry the day: the man of the word or the man of the gun?
My literary impulse wants this question suspended forever between these two worthy adversaries. The voracious reader in me wants it answered in a sequel. Right. Damn. Now.