Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 480 pages; 2009. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
I love Irish literary fiction and I’m quite partial to the odd crime novel, so when I first heard that Alan Glynn’s Winterland was described as “Dublin noir” I knew I’d probably enjoy it. I was right. This is a cracking story, brilliantly told and incredibly entertaining, and I bet it won’t take long before the film rights are sold and we see it on the big, or possibly little, screen some time soon.
The real strength of this story is its wholly contemporary feel. Anyone who knows anything about the Irish economy will love this book, because it so beautifully captures the murky machinations of the property bubble (before it went “pop” earlier this year), planning policy and politics. Throw in a gangland murder, a dash of violence, a smidgen of retribution and you’ve got all the right ingredients for a dark and thrilling read.
The book opens with a young thug, Noel Rafferty, being gunned down in the beer garden of a local pub. Police figure it’s a gangland murder, because the victim is a small-time drug dealer. But later that same night Noel’s uncle, also called Noel Rafferty, is killed in a mysterious car accident. Why have two members of the same family, sharing the same name, died on the same night? Coincidence? Or something more sinister?
Enter Gina Rafferty, aunt of the first Noel, sister of the second, who doesn’t believe the official explanation that the car accident was exactly that — an accident.
She begins some detective work of her own, and before long she finds herself thrust into a world of dodgy dealings involving property and politics. She learns that her brother, an engineer, was working on a huge skyscraper, the tallest of its kind in Europe, known as Richmond Plaza. He had a close working relationship with the property’s developer, Paddy Norton, a greedy man intent on turning the Dublin skyline into a mini-Manhattan. Norton, in turn, has connections with Larry Bolger, a power-hungry politician with an eye on the country’s top job. There’s obviously some shadowy goings on between these three men, but proving it takes Gina into dangerous and uncertain territory.
To complicate the story further, enter Mark Griffin, the sole survivor of a car accident that left him an orphan more than 20 years earlier. Is he connected to the Rafferty deaths and, if so, how?
All these characters, including the lone female heroine whom everyone in authority dismisses as an airhead, might sound slightly clichéd but in Glynn’s capable hands they become very real people, with foibles and flaws. He really gets into the heads of each individual character and presents their motivations and desires so intricately it’s easy to feel empathy for even the most loathsome of the bunch.
The dialogue, smart and snappy (and riddled with Dublinese and obligatory swearing), moves things along at a crisp pace. There’s plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way, but apart from one over-the-top scene towards the end of the book, the whole of Winterland feels authentic and prescient. Highly recommended.