Tropes are simultaneously the biggest strength and weakness of genre fiction. Fans pick their favorite sorts of stories based on commonalities they know they'll find in them, yet rote adherence to convention quickly becomes boring. No matter their preferred flavor of composition, genre scribes usually need to offer up a certain spice to keep readers interested, some sort of deviation from the tried-and-true recipe. Crime writer Adrian McKinty has regularly folded stream-of-consciousness into his hardboiled thrillers, adding a literary tang to bad-men-with-guns tales. However, his latest novel, Falling Glass, features new ingredients -- a sardonic sense of humor and an examination of exotic corners of Irish culture.
Killian doesn't like to work with guns. The forty-ish ex-militant and bodyguard has always felt more comfortable diffusing dangerous situations with his mouth rather than slugs. In truth, Killian would like to give up The Life entirely and go legit, quite messing around with criminality and settle down. He's giving it a try, having bought some investment property and enrolled at university. But when the Irish real estate market tanks and Killian finds himself without any equity, he finds the offer of one last job enticing. The client? Charmingly corrupt airline magnate Richard Coulter. The task? Find his drug-addled ex-wife Rachel, who up and vanished with their two daughters. The wrinkle? Rachel has unearthed a secret that could topple not only Coulter's empire, but the entire Irish peace process that has reigned in years of IRA violence.
Readers will notice that Falling Glass is less literary than McKinty's previous works, such as Fifty Grand and Dead I Well May Be. The style feels leaner, less reliant on poetic flourishes and more focused on action. That isn't to say it's any less skillful. The novel's first chapter had me in stitches as it described Killian's fruitless attempts to lecture clueless Bostonians about Irish history during Saint Patrick's Day. McKinty's delving into the Pavee (a group of ethnic Irish gypsies) proves similarly engaging. Sure, a couple missteps jar the proceedings. The prose is so punchy at times that point-of-view shifts may catch you off guard, and one watery chase scene finishes dubiously. But they hardly spoil the main action. McKinty knows how to serve up tough-guy tension, and the book ends with a deliciously ambiguous ending that's right up there with the final moments of Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. Catch this Glass if you can.
(Picture: CC 2007 by laszlo-photo; Hat Tip: Detective Beyond Borders)