I LOVED The Glorious Heresies; we read it in my book club last year after it won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and all of us thought it was fantastic. A well-deserved winner. So, we had no problem picking the follow-up to read as one of our summer three and I had very high expectations.
The novel begins more or less where The Glorious Heresies left off with the central character, Ryan Cusack, embroiled ever more deeply in the Cork city underworld of drugs, money laundering and violence. McInerney has managed to keep Ryan’s character consistent – he has evolved in an entirely credible way – although, unlike in the first novel, there now seems almost no hope of the more refined, gentler side of his personality prevailing to choose a different lifestyle. He is more embedded in the criminal fraternity than ever but remains an engaging and attractive central character. If anything, his charisma grows as he matures; true, he does some pretty unpleasant things, and not always at the behest of his criminal masters, but you can see that McInerney, if this turns out to be part of a series of novels, is building him up to be the tormented gangster.
Other characters remain consistent too. There is Karine, Ryan’s long-suffering girlfriend; their teenage romance was a beautiful precious thing in the first novel, amidst the degradation of events. Their relationship continues in The Blood Miracles but with new twists and turns as they grow up and innocence is left well and truly behind them. The addition of another potential love interest, in the form accountancy student Natalie, brings some further complications to Ryan’s messy personal life. There is also Ryan’s father Tony, the broken man, an alcoholic who was widowed young with five children to bring up. Portrayed as pathetic and useless in the first novel, he plays a lesser part here, but in some ways his strengths and his importance to Ryan become more apparent. I was puzzled by the title of the novel until almost near the end when an exchange between father and son on Ryan’s birthday makes it clear – blood, family, can drive the greatest and most profound acts in all of us.
The remaining characters include the two senior gangsters – Dan Kane, for whom Ryan works as a dealer, and Jimmy Phelan, who was so prominent in The Glorious Heresies – and their various acolytes, including Maureen Phelan (Jimmy’s mother) who once again plays a pivotal role. The city of Cork also looms large in the novel, as does Ryan’s love-hate relationship with it:
“This city, like all cities, hates its natives. It would rather be in a constant state of replenishment than own up to what it has warped.”
The basic plot is a drug deal, a major shipment of MDMA from Italy to Ireland. Ryan’s mother was Italian and he speaks the language. This has made him an instrumental part of the deal with the Camorra in Naples. The drugs go astray in what appears to be a theft from Dan Kane’s girlfriend after she’d picked up the shipment and was moving it to a safe house. The rest of the book is about solving the mystery of the missing merchandise and the accusations and counter-accusations.
I found the novel a bit slow to start and I was worried that it wasn’t going to live up to the promise of The Glorious Heresies, but about a quarter of the way through the pace changes quite significantly. So, if you’re struggling initially, persevere at least to page 100! You realise that in the first part of the book there is a lot of scene-setting going on and the author is working hard to recreate the settings, themes and characters from her earlier book. If you hadn’t read The Glorious Heresies this would help set the context for you, but you will enjoy this book more if you’ve read the first. As the plot around the missing drugs thickens, it becomes completely compelling and the denouement is utterly brilliant – I could actually feel my heart beating faster!
Can’t tell you more without giving too much away, I’m afraid. Suffice to say it is a page-turner. It’s earthy and visceral with plenty of sex, drugs, booze and swearing! The writing is incredible, particularly the dialogue. It is narrated almost like one of those old-fashioned 1950s gangster movies, with smoke-filled rooms, seductive women and a lilting sax in the background! Like the title of the first Ryan Cusack novel it’s also glorious!
Have you read this book? How do you think it compares to The Glorious Heresies and do you think you can read this without reading the first?
If you have enjoyed this post, I would love for you to follow my blog. You can do so by clicking on the Follow button. Thanks.