Why The F*ck Aren't You Reading Alan Glynn?

Why The F*ck Aren't You Reading? is a new feature where the columnist spotlights a writer who has a dedicated following and is well known within the writing community, but hasn't achieved the elephant-in-the-room style success of a Stephen King or Gillian Flynn—But they deserve to, dammit! Hopefully the column will help gain the author featured a few more well deserved readers.

Crime fiction can be a very narrow canvass. With the typical crime novel, it's usually laser beam focused on the crime itself, the victim, the hero, the perpetrator, and a certain number of ancillary figures lurking in the background to provide a body count. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad thing. The character driven simplicity of crime fiction is what draws me to it; the author can delve heavily into motivation, examine those one or two characters and the crime itself under a microscope. (By the way, this “formula” can be applied to just about any novel no matter what the genre.) And more often than not, the central crime doesn't go beyond affecting a handful of people

Glynn, in my humble opinion, is not only the very best crime novelist Ireland has produced in the past twenty years... but may be Ireland's very best novelist. Period.

But there are certain crime novelists who require a broader canvass, where the crime goes beyond the micro of affecting a handful of human beings, to affecting thousands—sometimes millions of lives. Crimes so heinous that they cut across cultural, religious, and race lines and reveal an enemy so staggering in its influence that you have to completely suspend belief and tell yourself that crimes like this do not exist, that they can't exist; that there couldn't be individuals in the world so willing to sacrifice the well being of entire populations in order to profit; that these types of crimes and criminals are nothing more than the paranoid ravings which dominate extremist websites and message boards. But they are out there, some of us may even work for companies who participate in altering the economies of entire countries both big and small in order to increase their profitability. But instead of calling these transgressions crimes, we call it progress. (Yup, I realize I sound as paranoid as a rabid neo-con sporting a tin-foil hat, and no I'm not wearing one.)

Yes, these kind of things happen, just like murder, rape, kidnapping, home invasion, etc., but with these deep, world changing crimes, it's easier for us to romanticize; to make ourselves believe that this kind of evil only exists in novels and movies. 

And it does make great reading, but crime novelists of this ilk are few and far between. Off the top of my head, the first who spring to mind are John Le Carre, James Ellroy, and the late Roberto Bolano. But over the last decade, another author has emerged who tackles such broad crimes, and does so with the same mastery as the aforementioned storytellers, and in many ways surpasses them, and chances are—at least if you live in the U.S—you've never heard of him. I'm talking, of course, about Irish novelist, Alan Glynn. Glynn, in my humble opinion, is not only the very best crime novelist Ireland has produced in the past twenty years (and for those of you in the know, the Irish crime community  possesses some of the very best crime writers currently working), but may be Ireland's very best novelist. Period.

The Skinny aka Just The Facts and Nothing But The Facts

Alan Glynn was born in Drumcondra, Dublin in 1960 and was educated at Trinity College in English Literature. He currently lives in Terenure, Dublin, with his wife and two sons. His first novel, The Dark Fields (renamed Limitless) was adapted by Neil Burger and starred Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro. He also received the 2011 Irish Book Award for Best Crime Novel for the second book in his loose “Land” trilogy (Winterland, Bloodland, and Graveland).

The Work aka Why You Should Be Reading This Guy

As I mentioned in my introduction, Glynn occupies a unique place in fiction: he's a broad canvass storyteller. His novels—particularly the “Land” trilogy—are dense page turners that occupy a territory between international espionage and noir, although both sub-genres seem inadequate in describing the tone of his work. What sets Glynn's protagonists apart from most writers of espionage such as Ludlum and Eric Van Lustbader—and what puts those characters in the realm of noir—is that they are, more or less, average people struggling with the day-to-day demands of the world—work, bills, children—and are somehow thrust headlong into ultra-paranoid, blood soaked worlds of druglords, mining barons, international financiers, crooked CEOs and their lapdog politicians, and pseudo-celebrity reality television trash. They are so far over their heads that they're drowning (as are most of Glynn's antagonists, as well), but they keep pushing forward despite the fact they know all they'll encounter is more horror.

Glynn also seems to be preternaturally aware of the culture. His second novel, Winterland, which focuses largely on the international real estate collapse, was published on the heels of the crash and the great recession; Bloodland focuses on the atrocities committed by private corporate armies who seemingly rule the third world with an increasingly more powerful iron fist; and the forth-coming, Graveland, features OWS style terrorists. I am simplifying the plots of all three novels, because it's practically impossible to summarize these intricate, exceptionally engaging reads in single sentence blurbs. And yes, Glynn's novels are very much thrillers, but they're of the type and complexity which most thriller authors are absolutely incapable of writing.

Where To Start aka What Book Should I Read First, Smart Guy?

Most of you are going to start with Limitless (nee The Dark Fields) and I get that. The film was excellent and the novel is, of course, a hundred times better. But, the jumping off point I would recommend is Glynn's third novel, Bloodland. The second book in the loose “Land” trilogy was an impulse buy on my part and once I started reading it, I had to force myself to put it down, which for me is a rare occurrence. Each chapter in Bloodland was very much a down the rabbit hole experience, each sentence daring me to move forward, just to see how deep it would go. Also, please don't take the word “trilogy” too literally. As I've mentioned throughout the article, the “Land” trilogy is a loose one, and you can pick up any of the three novels without having read the previous books. Like most of the authors I've featured in Why The F*ck Aren't You Reading, anywhere you begin your journey with Glynn will be deeply satisfying.

Alright, so thanks for reading, and as a further thank you, I'm giving away the entire “Land” trilogy to one lucky commenter. What I want from you is to suggest an author for me to profile in the August edition of Why The F*ck Aren't You Reading... What I'm really looking for is a new-to-me author who I can sink my teeth into. There are, of course, stipulations:

1) The author must be living. Yeah, I like dead guys as much as the next reader, but seriously, chances are because they're dead, they're being studied and regularly published still. (To quote Bolano: “Americans like their authors either rich or dead.”)

2) The author must have between 3-to-5 novels or collections currently in print. I dig debut writers, but since this is somewhat of a critical column, I prefer to have multiple works which to read from.

3) No famous/rich writers. I love writers like King, Flynn, Lehane, etc.; they're great writers and they deserve their fame. But come on, they're rich and famous already, and I love turning people on to writers they can't normally pick up at airports or Wal*Mart.

4) U.S. Residents and Canucks only, because I'm not made of money and international shipping is hella expensive.

Other than that, it's all good, so get cracking.

Image via the Irish Echo

Keith Rawson

Column by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies May 28, 2013 - 1:48pm

Fantastic profile. You don't have to include me in the contest, as I've got too much to read on my plate as it is, but I wanted to suggest Benjamin Percy, partly because I'm a big fan, and partly because I don't think a lot of people know about him. He has, I think, four titles out, including The Language of Elk (stories), Refresh, Refresh (stories), The Wilding (novel) and Red Moon (novel). I love all four of these books. I'm just finishing up Red Moon, and will review it for The Nervous Breakdown soon, like I did for The Wilding, but his ability to take the best of genre and literary fiction and blend them together is just amazing. If you haven't read all four of these yet, Keith, you'll have a lot of fun.

Patti Nase Abbott's picture
Patti Nase Abbott May 28, 2013 - 1:58pm

I would like to suggest Castle Freeman, Jr.. His novels include the incomprable GO WITH ME, MY LIFE AND ADVENTURES and ALL THAT I HAVE. Wry, funny, from the heart. 

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk May 28, 2013 - 3:11pm

Just managed to get bloodlands off of amazon for a quid. Result!

Werus's picture
Werus from Portland, OR is reading Secret Acension May 28, 2013 - 3:23pm

How about Willy Vlautin? He just makes the cutoff with three novels: The Motel Life (also a movie, though not released in North America yet I don't think,) Northline, and Lean on Pete. His style is simple (he counts Carver and Steinbeck as influences and has been compared to them.)

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones May 28, 2013 - 3:45pm

@Werus - Willy Vlautin's a damn good choice, I could maybe include his records as well, most of which are novels set to music.

@Richard - You know I dig Percy, but considering that I interviewed him at the beginning of the month, the honchos might not be into it.

cwilbur's picture
cwilbur May 28, 2013 - 6:14pm

Given your tastes, I can't imagine that you've missed Reed Farrel Coleman -- but I sure am hoping, for both our sakes.  His characters are deeply flawed, but (as in much good noir) they wind up facing difficult moral choices; and both his plots and his sentences are finely crafted.

His works have been intermittently in print lately but seem to be all available at the moment; I recommend starting with the first in his Moe Prager series, Walking the Perfect Square.  

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts May 28, 2013 - 9:39pm

I didn't know that Willy Vlautin wrote novels. I'll gotta check those out.

I haven't seen much on the writer Jack O'Connell, who does this weird Surrealist Noir stuff, of his Quinsigamond series I've hit The Resurrectionist and Box Nine and it's some pretty flooring sheeit.

Pádraig Carty's picture
Pádraig Carty May 29, 2013 - 2:19am

Very good critique and I agree wholeheartedly having myself read all of Alan Glynn's novels except the latest one.
May I recommend Ross King whose fictional novel 'Domino' was like travelling in a time machine to Europe in the 18th century. I picked up this book at a book sale and found it unputdownable from beginning to end.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones May 29, 2013 - 6:53am

@cwilbur - I've read just about everything Coleman has in print, so it's a strong possibility over the next couple of months.

@Renfiled - O'Connell is a solid pick. And check out Motel Life by Vlautin, one of my favorites.

@Padraig - I've only read King's 'The Judgment of Paris', which was a great piece of art history, very engaging.

Ronald Reich's picture
Ronald Reich May 29, 2013 - 3:29pm

Great article! I agree with everything you wrote 1000%.  BLOODLAND is such an amazing book.  Honestly, I think it is my all-time favorite novel.  Definitely the one to start with. I just started Graveland and I'm so excited to see how that story turns out.

Robert DuBose Matlock's picture
Robert DuBose M... May 31, 2013 - 12:40pm

William Gay! Donald Ray Pollock! I like contests. 

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones June 2, 2013 - 7:03pm

@Robert _ You should check out my interview with William Gay, which is Will's last interview. I love Pollock, he's a great storyteller, but he only has two books. And I love cntests, too!

@Patti - I picked Castle Freeman, Jr., seems like he's right up my alley.

Pádraig Carty's picture
Pádraig Carty October 17, 2013 - 12:11pm

Alan Glynn’s most recent publication ‘Graveland’ reads like Robert Altman’s classic 1994 movie ‘Short Cuts’. The reader goes on different journeys, each containing its own storyline and set of characters with little or no overlapping. The only bind among them all is an insignificant televised trial meandering meaninglessly (or so it would seem) throughout all three subplots. The stories jump from one to the other with no warning much like Glynn’s general narrative style; the sentences are short and snappy and most of the writer’s energy and therefore the reader’s attention is drawn to the unfolding events of the stories. You instinctively know the plots are going to connect up and it’s all going to be perfectly clear, but the clever technique used by Glynn keeps you drawn in right to the end. Even when you finally begin to join up the dots, the suspense is maintained. The shooting scenes (there are several) are examples of Glynn’s perfect mastery of modern prose: short and simple, but incredibly effective at giving the reader a feel for the high drama of such an event.

The story itself, like Glynn’s other novels, is incredibly up to the minute and appropriate for the age we are living in right now, this minute. The characters are dealt with intelligently; the goodies are only mostly good and the baddies only mostly bad. They are above all human and although we’d love to think of ourselves as having good principles, we know that there is a bit of those baddies in us too.

The writer’s knowledge of the (corrupt) world of high finance, as well as of journalistic reporting and police procedures is more than impressive. Sometimes one wonders if Glynn doesn’t overestimate his readers’ ability to keep up. His frequent use of abbreviations mercilessly assumes the reader will understand. Some were manageable like: WTF, CEO, NYPD, IPO. But others frankly left me baffled: MO, COO, SEC, JTTF; MUI, CRO etc. I even needed to google a few references (‘Glass Steagall’; Kent State’) to better follow the intrigue. Glynn is also very comfortable with abbreviations like ‘perps’ for perpetrators and ‘vics’ for victims. Some of his descriptions and observations are wonderfully quixotic: boilerplate magazine prose; tantric quality; bot-like cameras; deckled pages; just a couple of sandwiches short of wearing a bowtie; a bocce court; a toking gesture; triburbazine etc. But the novel is never abstruse nor difficult to read; quite the contrary actually as the breakneck speed of the storyline keeps the reader breathlessly turning the pages.
His descriptions are always very well thought, like this one of security agents: “Thickset guys in black with earpieces parade up and down, scanning the area for trouble, never smiling, exuding a kind of dumb, steroidal menace.”
I happened to be in New York while reading this book and it’s very obvious that Glynn is very familiar and at home describing the hype that is Manhattan: “When they come out of the alleyway to head back to Flannery’s, Amsterdam Avenue has notched things up a couple of gears in terms of sound level, colour display, pixel-action…”
“It was always this part of town that made him feel most like an architect, midtown-with its soaring towers and vertiginous canyons, its expanses of glass and steel, its mullions and spandrels…the mongrel skyline rising from an ordered grid, this great aggregate of the revolutionary and the dandified, the conservative and the radical…”
Padraig A. CARTY
October 2013

Lisa Kennedy's picture
Lisa Kennedy July 24, 2015 - 7:03pm

Is Elizbeth Strout who wrote "Olive Kitteridge" too famous?


Being a child of the 60's, seeing the movie "Limitless," really spoke to me and i had to know who could write such a great story, which led me to your review of Alyn Glyn and his other books. Sounds like I've a lot more to read. Same thing happened when i saw "Olive Kitteridge" on TV.








Lisa Kennedy