Monday, July 8, 2013
Review of Irregulars by Kevin McCarthy (New Island, 2013)
Irregulars is the second Sean O’Keefe story, set a couple of years after Peeler, during the Irish civil war. Like Peeler, the story is multi-layered and nuanced, capturing the convoluted national politics and family allegiances of the time. And by demobbing O’Keefe and having him search for a politically-motivated and adventure-seeking teenager, the plot allows McCarthy to portray the vast social differences between the well-to-do and the slums, as well take a relative impartial path through the politics and skirmishes between pro- and anti-treaty forces. In so doing, he creates a very strong sense of place and time. Indeed, the contextual history is very much front stage in the telling, with McCarthy demonstrating and imparting a detailed knowledge of Dublin and the civil war in the early 1920s. This does work to slow the story a little, and at times veers the book towards a history lesson rather than crime tale, but it is generally fascinating stuff. Where the telling does falter, however, is in the inclusion of a number of passages which are superfluous or overly long and little progress the story and the narrative would have benefitted from them being omitted or tightened. This is countered by the generally strong characterisation, especially Sean O’Keefe, Nora Flynn, the agent employed to track him, and Just Albert, the brothel strong-arm, and some really wonderful dialogue. Overall, Irregulars is a very good read, with a strong sense of place and history, excellent prose and dialogue, and an engaging, page-turning plot.