Revenge is a Dish Best Served With Cabbage

Ireland's troubles visit New York in Adrian McKinty's crime novel

Adrian McKinty
Dead I Well May Be
Scribner

Whether it's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 or Punk'd, you don't have to choose anymore between getting mad and getting even. Consider this defense of vengeance from Adrian McKinty's pulpy second novel Dead I Well May Be.

 

What kind of an emotion is revenge? Oh, it is much derided...Tit for tat and eye for eye; didn't someone say that these rules leave us all blind? And yet what if it's all you have?...No. It isn't noble, but it'll do. It is good, good enough.

No, it's not a noble book, but it will do. It is good. Good enough, at any rate, to inspire a screenplay. It's a fine yarn. And truth be told, it would fare better on the silver screen than on the printed page.

Perhaps already imagining the camera cuts from steely Glock to hemorrhaging victim and the sound of fashionable boots scraping pavement in a lurid New York alleyway, McKinty takes few pains to bother illuminating his characters, apart from the narrator Michael Forsythe. Michael, 19 years old and disillusioned, has traveled from County Ulster, Ireland, to New York based on the prospect of working for an Irish mobster named Darkey White. In short order, Michael falls for Darkey's girl, Bridget. (Apparently, he hasn't seen how these things typically work out in the movies.)

Bridget, though, is drawn with only the faintest of strokes, and much of this is by way of physical description. What do you know: She's a hottie.

 

She could be two hundred pounds heavier and wearing a potato sack and it wouldn't make a difference. It's her face. The expressions that move across it like a storm on the lough...And those eyes...When they flash dark you want to crawl into a hole somewhere, and when they're lit up you feel the universe is too small to contain your happiness.

 

Despite this doomed infatuation (and it can be little else, from the evidence), Michael proves himself a quick study as a hoodlum. To Darkey's approval, he caps a suspected traitor once in each of his ankles, knees, and elbows. A Belfast six-pack, it turns out, is not something to be enjoyed. Michael then fucks the traitor's wife, but that's another matter: revenge against Bridget for staying with Darkey.

So it goes as the story spirals ever deeper into betrayal and retribution. Soon enough, Michael finds himself in a squalid Mexican prison with three of his mates, and not by accident. Here is where the narrative becomes as incredible as a tale told after a three-day bender in Tijuana. At this point, it's impossible not to recall the film Midnight Express, and that's not a compliment. Michael's escape from prison receives vivid and gruesome treatment, but his odyssey back to the United States is, shall we say, fantastic.

By contrast, McKinty has a gift for describing the panic and claustrophobia of New York: crowded subway cars, long elevator rides, a shotgun bar in Harlem, Michael's own filthy apartment:

 

There is no natural light anywhere...If you go out onto the fire escape (which I often do) and you set up a chair and look up, now and again, through the skunk trees, you can see a plane or a bit of sky. The fire escape is rusted and rickety and will kill us all when the fire comes, but even so it's the nicest place in the apartment.

 

Scenes such as these ring true; they are as authentic as anything in The Basketball Diaries, that pulpy New York memoir from some 25 years ago. Indeed, McKinty's tale fares best when he sticks to Jim Carroll's turf, the rough-and-tumble of Irish New York. Beyond Harlem and the Bronx, though, his story falters badly. The secondary characters are mere cardboard cutouts, and Michael's interior monologue fails to do the action any justice.

Still, I'd watch the movie if they cast Jennifer Connelly as Bridget.

 
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