Monday, November 9, 2015

Gerard Cappa's "Black Boat Dancing": Book Review

Con Maknazpy is an odd name, one that was explained in the intricately plotted 2012 debut of his character, "Blood from a Shadow." That anticipated Obama's re-election, full of Iranian intrigue and the current situation that continues to reveal Western (and here, Eastern) superpowers battling over control of "Pipelineistan" and where oil from not only the Middle East but Eurasia will wind up. Gerard Cappa continues the mix of subtle allusion, rapidly paced violent set-pieces, and character reflection, for Con encounters from the earliest pages the "red frenzy" inherited, and perhaps passed on, from Irish ancestors, and in turn, the Ulster Cycle and Cú Chullain's "warp spasms."

Cappa handles these references lightly, such that you may not realize the preparation he gives in both tales to their literary and mythic resonance. Here, I reckoned the plot might be calmer than the frenetic and wide-ranging mayhem of the first installment. However, very soon, we leave the Yonkers of the narrator, as he is recruited and sent off off to Lisbon, where this story takes Con and his friend Ferdy McIlhane into an international conspiracy, one that again draws in current geopolitics, along with immigrants, CIA, Russian no-good-niks, Chinese eager for cash, police from all over, an old fisherman, a whore with if not a heart of gold than a familiar tale of pain and compliance, and black hat (well, maybe gray for one key talent who is trapped in this global, sticky, darknet web) hacking.

Cora Oneale (Cappa's spelling), Jack Gallogly, and, off stage for their own reasons, Rose and Con's son return. No plot spoilers but we find Lisbon evoked lovingly, and Sintra memorably. The chapters move along efficiently, with space for reflection and self-hatred galore, before another bloody sequence sets up another chance for Con to spread the "red frenzy" all over whomever opposes him. And that number of foes adds up over the course of this noir thriller. It's not my usual genre, I confess, so my reaction may not be that of readers who subsist on this fare, but I do like the conversations his characters engage in about politics, capitalism, greed, and history, even if as one remarks (perhaps speaking for readers?) that he tires of this blather (another word is used instead).

"An outlier. Pain and isolation for him. Extreme and random. A life of heartbreak and loss for anyone who had ever loved him." Con considers his father's legacy as he tries to prevent from passing it on. "The underworld never changes." He reflects on the same old temptations that sustain sins and crime. His nemesis opines how a "propensity to exacerbate collateral damage comes wrapped up" in Con's "collective baggage." He contends against how he causes such damage, as "their awareness of the real presence of my evil seeped through their numbed heads, my own brain retreated into self-defense mode, as if the real Con Maknazpy couldn't exist or function without this ancient imposer usurped my skin." He finds "China is a civilization, America is a business," at least from one informed p-o-v.

Against that, he tries to rally the patriotic defense. While Con has some trans-Atlantic connection, and while his military service may tip the word choice to measure in meters a distance, I am not sure a Yonkers man would say "shopping trolleys" rather than "carts," or "holiday" instead of "vacation," and whether an American would identify an overheard language spoken as "Latino" rather than "Spanish or Portuguese," but these are slight slips in a fast tale that conveys a lot of plot twists. I like the breaks from the action more than the action, often, but Cappa seems at his best when he is in the thick of the brawl, and in cinematic style, you see the scenes vividly. The author's in his element here and compared to volume one, his focus on place helps plot coherence, even if it remains as complex. This may prove a transitional story in what I surmise will be a longer series, as Con labors to evolve.

A couple of crucial characters, as more than one enemy of Con reminds him, don't enter his thoughts or at least his words. Their absence from the plot, except as motivation, provides a curious tilt. While I assume this is very intentional, and portends more novels in the series, it left me feeling left out as to this emotional ballast, even if it goads Con on. There may be references hidden here to older stories, perhaps. Cappa certainly embedded many in his earlier novel that introduced us all to Con.

From this Belfast-based writer, "all mouth and no trousers" is a nice turn of phrase no matter its origin; such sentences (others I cannot repeat lest I bowdlerize) as "The bar was silent, like they were all straining to hear the drama on a misfiring radio" recall quaintly the pulp fiction idiom. "When the devils burn out you'll find your true spirit," Con is told by one who knows. I predict that future adventures, for after all, he tells this one to us, will find Con eager to spit in the face of other devils. (Amazon US 1-5-15)

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