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
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
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