A JOHN CREED DOUBLE SHOT
THE DAY OF THE DEAD
Faber and Faber £10-99pbk
THE SIRIUS CROSSING
Faber and Faber £6-99 pbk
Reviewed by Ali Karim
| Hot on the heels of the debut of cerebral Scottish spy, Jack
Valentine, comes the cordite filled sequel The Day of the Dead.
I have to confess to developing a real taste for these violent thrillers
by Eoin McNamee aka John Creed. They are filled with moral angst, the
brutality of the human condition with more than just a peep into the
dark nature of people who live and die in the world of covert
operations. Valentine is a man of culture, who enjoys art, music,
epicurean pursuits, but deep inside he lives with the faces of the men
he has killed. He has now left that world of espionage, but that world
has yet to leave him.
This time around Jack Valentine is working on a personal mission tracking down Alva the errant daughter of a dying friend, Paolo. The trail reunites him with ex-IRA enforcer Liam Mellows and his sister Deirdre (Valentine's former lover). The action starts with a car bomb going off in London, and before you can yell 'duck', Valentine is on a flight to New York to try and pry the errant Alva from the Uber-Drug Dealer - the Mexican known as Xabarra. Joining him are Mellows, Deirdre as well as a Puerto Rican drug peddler Jesus replete with his male-lover and his Mother Irene. Bodies litter Manhattan as Valentine and his friends lock horns with Xabarra, as well as a family feud dating back to Jesus's origin as well his mothers. Sniper rifles, grenades, bombs, poison drugs, torture, machine guns, helicopters, car chases - sheesh this book has them all! The trail then zooms to Mexico and to the festival that gives the novel its title. A mad chase in helicopters ensues. More people join and die in Valentine's relentless pursuit, and soon the complex and far-fetched plot starts to knit together.
Like The Sirius Crossing, this is a complex story that really is about people, friends and family caught up on the dark side of covert operations. It's about how some have to live with the sins of their past, and how the haunted eyes of the dead plague their dreams. Despite its brutal violence, it is a deeply moral tale, and one that is very moving, and poignant. This is no hollow action tale, but one with as many ideas about living with death, as it has bullet wounds that tear across its pages. A Highly recommended series and its story will haunt you long after the smell of cordite has gone.
I had been deeply disappointed when Lee Child's breathtaking novel, Without Fail failed to win the first Ian Fleming Steel Dagger at the 2002 CWA luncheon. I had been rather intrigued by the softly spoken Irishman who took the prize for The Sirius Crossing. I did a little research and discovered that John Creed was in fact Eoin (pronounced 'Owen') McNamee. The self same writer who's debut had been Resurrection Man, a deeply dark look at the violence of the Shankhill Butchers (a sadistic loyalist gang that operated in Northern Ireland in the 1970's). He also penned the screenplay to the brutal but highly acclaimed film adaptation. Since then he has published The Blue Tango which made the Booker 'long list' last year.
The Sirius Crossing is a seriously good thriller from a writer who despite at times bordering on the literary certainly cooks up a real contemporary espionage brew. It grips from the introductory paragraph and keeps you clinging on like the characters battling the storm that lies at the centre of this tale. Jack Valentine is a British spy working for MRU a shady government intelligence organisation. He is sent into Northern Ireland to recover a file that vanished over twenty years ago by an aborted US operation. In so doing he runs into his former girlfriend, Deidre and her brother (and close friend) Liam Mellows. Mellows is an IRA enforcer on the run from both the Provisionals as well as the RUC following a rumour that he's become an informer. Valentine recovers the file and soon discovers that its contents are very sensitive and linked to some shady US Government types. He and Mellows go on the run pursued by a conglomerate of vicious acronyms consisting of CIA, RUC, IRA as well as Valentine's own organisation the MRU. Aided by a veteran smuggler Regan, they flee Ireland in Valentine's old trawler and head off into the North Sea. Not only are they pursued by a stealthy freighter but by a battering storm that would test George Clooney's sea-faring abilities to the limit.
The real theme of the book is how friendships can survive when they are forged in the brutal world of death and treachery that forms the world of espionage and covert war. The story is told in first person which allows the cynicism of Valentine to flow and contrast abrasively with the brutality that he has seen in his life. The characters are well delineated and the skulduggery plausible in the world that Eion McNamee creates. The title is a nice play on 'crossing' which signifies more than just the journey from Ireland to the UK, and the US Dimension adds that edge of paranoia making the fingers sweat a little more on the triggers.
The conclusion is full of pyrotechnics and gives the tale a cathartic flourish after much brutality and violence. Highly recommended and John Creed is a name to watch out for - if you like deeply character driven espionage tales.