Article published on September 1, 2011.
Bloodland is the third thriller from Alan Glynn, author of The Dark Fields (now known as Limitless since being brought to life on screen by Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper). Where The Dark Fields was, as Glynn calls it, “a pharmaceutical Faust,” Bloodland is a far more complex affair, taking the reader from recession-blighted Ireland, to the halls of economic power in Manhattan, to the sanity-sapping violence of the Congo, telling a timeless but contemporary tale of greed, lies and conspiracy.
The tale opens with Jimmy Gilroy, a young journalist, taking on an investigation into the death of Susie Monaghan, a z-list celebrity killed some years ago in a helicopter crash. As Gilroy’s investigation leads him deeper into a web of intrigue, Glynn offers up brief, punchy chapters, which ensure a tearing pace while teasing the reader with seemingly disparate chunks of information, ultimately revealed to be part of a horrifying but utterly plausible whole. As an exercise in conspiracy thriller writing, Bloodland is straight from the top drawer.
This is no bog-standard thriller though, and what sets Glynn aside from the crowd is his masterful evocation of the zeitgeist. Glynn’s characters, while not markedly complex, are emblematic of their era. Susie Monaghan, the deceased starlet, was vapid, conceited, lurching from disaster to disaster, a product of a tabloid culture that prizes celebrity over attainment. Larry Bolger, the alcoholic former Taoiseach (I believe it’s pronounced “teeshock”), is an ethically indifferent politician with little genuine power. Jimmy Gilroy, the closest thing to a hero in the piece, is a journalist easily persuaded to abandon idealism in favour of advancement.
Beyond the characters though, Glynn paints a portrait of the 21st Century thus far. Western civilisation’s raison d’etre is no longer to create, simply to possess. Ex-military men are dumped unceremoniously back on the streets of the nations they risked their lives to defend. The democratic process is largely lip service to the ideals of a beleaguered public; democracy is, in reality, oligarchy. An industrialised China lurks in the background, an economic behemoth still hungry for more –
“’They send people over,’ Kimbela continues, ‘who will live in huts and survive on a bowl of rice a day. You people?’… ‘You people have to have hot dogs and sodas and Taco Bell and reality TV shows and every kind of shit. So the result is, you are being left behind.’ He pauses. ‘You have…’ He clicks his fingers. ‘Yes, fallen asleep at the wheel.’”
In addition to politics and economics, Glynn covers the functions of private military contractors, the realities of mining in the Congo, UN procedural detail and much more. He writes with a near omniscience that makes Bloodland an extremely convincing account of our times. When my six month old daughter asks what life was like during the turbulent year of her birth, she will be handed not a bundle of newspapers or a web address, but a copy of Bloodland.
Overall, Bloodland is a fantastic thriller, perfectly plotted, credible, and superbly paced. It is also much more than that, a snapshot of a pivotal period in history, explored from numerous angles and geographic locations. It is written with enviable intelligence by an author who, on the strength of this outing, has much more critical acclaim to come.
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