Sunday, September 25, 2011

Alan Glynn's "Winterland": Book Review

The title has nothing to do with an old rock venue; this mystery reveals the secrets about a skyscraper built in Dublin. Winterland Properties, under Paddy Norton, inveigles American venture capital and Irish politicians. Noonan's forty-eight story high-rise will tower over not only the city, but the future. Alan Glynn, a native of the capital, writes this nearly five-hundred page novel with a style that rarely draws attention to itself; instead, he takes us through a half-dozen or so characters who get caught up in the mystery surrounding a report about Richmond Plaza.

Glynn offers no avuncular wits in pubs, no misty reveries, no turns of Irish phrase. His post-Catholic society is obsessed with wealth, status, and greed. Its urban and suburban settings could almost always be anywhere else, and the anonymity of much of redeveloped Dublin shrouds this story. Richmond Plaza stands for an Anglo-American, or European, sense of belonging, not to the docklands locale beneath the tower, but to a globalized network that might make Dublin the next Dubai, if still a mistier place.

The Plaza dominates the city's horizon, seen for miles as its new landmark. "Next to it are two enormous cranes, which look like mechanical high priests, supplicants kneeling before some holy monolith." Gina Rafferty will learn its layout, for her brother and nephew, bearing the same names, are both killed within days of each other by forces, she learns, tied into the Plaza's construction. Her mission, driving this tale, is to uncover the truth. As a computer data retrieval specialist, her expertise will serve her well, but her lack of experience with knowing who's who and what's what in the network of business, politics, and post-"peace process" security providers will complicate her endeavor to attain her own particular justice.

Other entangled in this web also earn their voice; Glynn shifts between indirectly telling Gina's perspective and those of Noonan, his associates, a rising politician, and a younger man whose connections to the origins of Noonan's wealth and the politician's rise will emerge gradually. These other voices, notably, often lacked the verve of Gina's impassioned, and then skewed and frenzied, inner dialogue which propels this lengthy narrative forward. This does make for a shifting story: Gina's vigilante spirit has little to balance it for long stretches of the novel, as other characters seeking to shut her up or do her in appear by contrast ragged, lethargic, and trapped. Glynn plays this off deftly, balancing between set-ups and pay-offs, but for readers, it may make for an oddly-paced momentum as the chapters continue.

A well-placed karate kick, a ceramic mug, a seemingly impact-proof cellphone, a clever use of another cellphone in one hand while its wielder holds a pistol in the other, and a strangely listed phone number serve at key plot points to kick the story along, if with a bit of suspended disbelief. Mysteries and thrillers, as with action films (Glynn's first novel was made recently into a film, Limitless) thrive on such snappy scenes, and Glynn handles them with aplomb. He mercifully excises the hard-boiled dialogue; his characters talk almost as if Americans, more often than not, with nearly no Hibernian traces if from Dublin: another register of change.

What lingers longest is Gina's frenzy to avenge her brother's death. It's as if her life is blacked out except for her condition of high alert. She has no boyfriend, no spouse, no real confidant, and her isolation, Glynn shows, allows her to enter into an imbroglio where the police or a private investigator might not dare. With so few degrees of separation in a small nation even in a large city, a curious Irish woman decides to use her post-traumatic stress to force open many closed doors. "She has deferred the grieving process--parked it, but left the motor running." This well-constructed novel about a construction project reveals how long Gina will be able to dash off on her own, before the process returns to claim her.
(Featured 9-1-11 PopMatters; Amazon US 8-27-11)

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