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Dead I Well May Be

Adrian McKinty

Scribner/Simon & Schuster

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-7432-4699-3

Publication Date: October 14, 2003

306 Pages; $24.00

Date Reviewed: November 10, 2003

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2003




Michael Forsythe, the protagonist of McKinty's novel, is an Irishman of whom it can truly be said...if it weren't for bad luck, he'd have no luck at all. Forced to flee the Troubles in Belfast, he opts for a plunder-for-passage deal to New York to work for gangster boss Darky White. Michael becomes an indentured thug helping save Darky's piece of Harlem and the Bronx from an invasion of Dominican gangsters. Living in a roach-invested Harlem apartment, delivering "Belfast Six Packs", a particularly nasty form of gunplay that brutally maims the victim, Michael gets himself into a whole New World of troubles. Sleeping with the boss' mistress, no matter how fetching, is rarely a good idea, especially when the boss is a certified mobster.

Moving from Belfast to New York, from New York to a Mexican jail, and from Mexico back to New York, 'Dead I Well May Be' is an engrossing and unusual story of gangsters, violence, betrayal and revenge. The narrative unfolds in three rather distinct acts, beginning with Michael's stint as a newbie thug in New York. He's younger but smarter than his fellow thugs, cool and particularly vicious. After a screwed up shoot-out heats up things in New York, Michael is sent to Cancun, Mexico on a drug buy, and lands in a Mexican prison with his fellow mates. Escaping prison, Michael returns to New York, hardened and purposeful, to exact revenge on those responsible for his incarceration and to learn that revenge is a two-way street.

The plot begins with a solid but unoriginal NY gangster story, which I found overly long and a bit slow. It then moves to a Mexican prison drama that makes The Midnight Express look like The Orient Express, sickening, but absorbing. The finale, back in New York, is a suspenseful saga of cold-blooded revenge, ending with a twist that was surprising, but perfectly set-up. McKinty relies a bit too much on the HIBK trick (had I but known) as a way to transition from one story to the next, a bit of foreshadowing that is unnecessary. Readers don't need a dangling carrot to keep reading. It's not likely anyone will abandon the unique and memorable character, Michael Forseyth, until they discover exactly what happens to him. While not particularly likeable - Michael is a miscreant through and through - he's got a winning combination of brains, bad luck, imagination, and a particularly Irish way with words.

McKinty's writing style is as varied as his settings, moving from street-smart and slangy, through poetic and introspective, to raw and intensely, coldly dark. Writing in the first person, his language has an Irish lilt and energy that's engaging and often humorous and sarcastic. His descriptions are vivid, often stomach turning, and gruesome. McKinty's prose is an unusual juxtaposition of lyrical description or fanciful reflection, followed by abrupt, harsh "and then I shot him in the forehead" exposition. The ceiling of the Mexican prison provides the playing field for a fantasy of the "door-side" versus the "window side", imaginary civilizations going to war, this mingled with a childhood memory of getting a haircut in Belfast, and capped off with way-too-vivid descriptions of lice, rats, stench and starvation. The fantastical and the foul blend together uniquely and, once you get the hang of it, quite seamlessly.

The edges of the mystery genre are oozing ever more into science fiction, fantasy, suspense, action-adventure or general fiction, and 'Dead I Well May Be' combines a bit of all. Wherever it may be shelved in your local bookstore, 'Dead I Well May Be' deserves to be found, read and enjoyed. McKinty tells a great story, and, quite simply, this guy sure can write.