Thursday, October 11, 2012

Adrian McKinty Runs With Irish Luck

Michael Forsythe never wanted to immigrate to America, but his homeland left him no choice. He took a window replacement job after a bombing at The Europa hotel in Belfast had unintended consequences. The Department of Health and Social Security considered the temp work employment and unceremoniously charged him with benefits fraud.

He was given a choice. Go to court and risk the consequences or plead guilty and sign off on benefits forever. It wasn't a hard choice for Forsythe. At 19, he had already been drummed out of the army and served time. So he pleaded guilty and decided to take the one job he never wanted to take.

He would go to work for Darkey White, a crime boss in pre-Giuliani New York. The job suits him, but not because he relishes violence. He genuinely loathes it, even if it is all he ever knew growing up in Belfast during the seventies and eighties. It was perfect training for the civil war of sorts happening in Harlem and the Bronx.

Dead I May Well Be is a sharply written must-read noir.

Forsythe would have settled for low-wage construction work, which makes up most of White's legitimate business (aside from the bribes to get his contracts), but it doesn't take long for one of White's righthand men to make him. Forsythe is hired on as muscle, one of several Irish thugs who take care of White's shadier business interests — everything from loan sharking to the protection racket.

There is another reason the boss needs more muscle too. For months, maybe longer, Dominican drug gangs have been testing Irish turf. Forsythe seems right for the job, either as a near-sociopathic thug who is biding his time for an elusive break or as an intelligent, self-educated mick who is unflappable under pressure. The choice is left up to the reader.

Most people will lean to see him as the latter. Even as an anti-hero, Forsythe seldom enjoys his ruthlessness, which makes it difficult to pinpoint his detachment from it. Half the time, he acts out things he has seen or heard of in the fog of disbelief that he is actually doing them. Even his colleagues are often left with a sense of awe by his ability to shrug off brutality and order a sandwich.

When he is not slugging or shooting it out, Forsythe often seems wise beyond his years. He is well-read, street-smart, and keenly observant, able to quickly size up people and places when he is thinking. When he is not thinking, he exhibits all the brashness of a tough-loved teen.

Sometimes he is bound by old world honor. Other times, he doesn't have a shred of self-restraint. The duality of his character explains both his bad luck and ability to narrowly survive it. For instance, Forsythe is smart enough to capture admiration, but dumb enough to get involved with Whitey's girl.

Michael Forsythe is the kind of character you never forget.

While the plot is straightforward, McKinty paints it with such vividness that there isn't any question why his debut crime novel was short-listed for the CWA Steel Dagger Award in 2004. Even after almost a decade, the cadence and character of an Irish survivor is as additive as it is adventurous.

You know before it happens that Forsythe is going to continue his run of bad Irish luck. It's apparent the boss is too suspicious of Forsythe's infidelities for it to never be found out. And yet, nobody can really guess how bad retribution might be when Whitey decides to send his boys south of the border.

The four of them are given enough money to have a great time, but absolutely no details about the job. Forsythe knows that it doesn't feel right and yet he plods head first into the ruinousness of it all. People disappear all the time in Mexico and Whitey wants almost all of them to disappear.

A few graphs about Irish-born Adrian McKinty. 

Like his principal character, Adrian McKinty was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Although he grew up in County Antrim, he also moved to the United States in the early 1990s and first lived in Harlem. He didn't stay long and eventually moved to Denver, Colorado, to teach college.

He has written 13 books, most notably his Michael Forsythe trilogy and young adult Lighthouse trilogy. He is currently writing the Sean Duffy trilogy from his new home in Australia. He and his family moved there in 2008.

Dead I Well May Be By McKinty Packs 9.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There aren't many noir books with better characters than the persistent Michael Forsythe. Never mind that he always assumes he will die. It's his relentless nature to try anyway that keeps him afloat in the world a little longer. His knack for treading water and sometimes darkly comic assessments of life remain even more memorable with a little age behind them.

Recently rereleased in paperback, Dead I Well May Be: A Novel by Adrian McKinty has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts. The novel can be found on Amazon or it can be purchased from Barnes & Noble. But perhaps even better than the reissued paperback is the new audiobook version out this year.

Read by Gerard Doyle, Dead I Well May Be is one of the best audiobooks out this year. His delivery and accent breathe new life into a strong and fearless Irish anti-hero that remains profoundly satisfying. You can download it from iTunes.
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