Full-bodied crime in Lisa McInerney's The Glorious Heresies
Irish author Lisa McInerney’s debut crime novel packs a punch, with surprising moments of beauty.
In a time when it appears that men generally can't and don't read and women can and do, there is now a whole body of crime fiction written by women that is tougher and more raw than anything produced by their male counterparts. Lisa McInerney is a young Irish crime writer, and her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies, is a textbook example.
It is a gritty look at contemporary life on bleak Irish housing estates, where prostitution and drug-dealing relieve grinding poverty, and where the legacy of centuries of moralistic Catholicism can be detected behind every action. In McInerney's hands, the city of Cork, in the south-east of Ireland, becomes just as potent and vivid as the Scandinavian cities that have featured so strongly these past few years in crime novels.
The Glorious Heresies is a sprawling, violent, murderous, and redemptive tragedy. Essentially it's a family drama, which centres on the adolescence of Ryan Cusack and the people and world around him. Ryan loses his virginity to the attractive Karine D'Arcy when they are both fifteen, but elsewhere in Cork, a prostitute's boyfriend is murdered by a middle-aged woman wielding a heavy religious souvenir. The novel explores the background and consequences of both of these events.
McInerery's cast of characters is fully-realised. Ryan's father, a weak-willed drunk, has got in over his depth with the disposal of a dead body. Tara Duane, Ryan's creepy next-door neighbour, has a penchant for teenage boys. Jimmy Phelan, Cork's own Godfather crime-boss, has surprising vulnerabilities amidst his hard judgements, along with a mother whose casually murderous temperament sets events in play. It is to McInerney's credit that each of these characters is detailed, individual, and memorable.
Taking place over move than five years, The Glorious Heresies moves at a brisk pace. Events curdle and mature. Ryan grows up, constantly thwarted by his background and environment. His relationship with Karine survives, but for how long? One crime gives rise to others. McInerney charts the ripples of each decision and the costs, right up to a finale that means judgement for some and escape for others.
Like Tara French, author of the recent Dublin Murder Squad series, McInerney also reveals an Ireland that it is often more convenient to ignore: the bleak laundries where single mothers were worked relentlessly by nuns right up to the 1970s, and the recent boom and bust that left the country filled with half-completed building projects. It's local scenery that isn't going to make it to postcards.
The Glorious Heresies is not easily forgettable. McInerney's language is an engaging blend of insight and Irish rhythms that strikes a precise balance between style and observation. It packs a punch when one is needed, with surprising moments of beauty.
- Sunday Star Times