The agony and the (ship­ment of) ec­stasy

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Books -

Lisa McIn­er­ney’s fire­cracker Bai­leys Prize-win­ning de­but, The Glo­ri­ous Here­sies (2015), sent us ca­reer­ing into the grim and gang­ster­ish un­der­belly of Cork, and in­tro­duced us to Ryan Cu­sack, a bright and trou­bled kid from a frac­tious es­tate, whom we first met as a 15-year-old, los­ing his vir­gin­ity to his girl­friend Karine.

Ryan’s mother was a sui­cide, and his fa­ther a vi­o­lent al­co­holic. By the clos­ing chap­ter of The Glo­ri­ous Here­sies, Ryan, now 20, had fallen in with some lo­cal deal­ers, done time in a young of­fender’s in­sti­tu­tion, tried to rein­vent him­self as a DJ, over­dosed on drugs, but just about man­aged to hang on to Karine – de­spite some morally elas­tic be­hav­iour. The book ended with him on a bridge, con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide, and be­ing talked down by a pass­ing older wo­man, Mau­reen, who has her own criminal con­nec­tions.

The Blood Mir­a­cles picks up from roughly this point – though it can happily be read with­out the ear­lier novel – and plunges us back into Ryan’s story with the nar­ra­tive élan that we shall soon be call­ing McIn­er­nian: “This, like so many of Ryan Cu­sack’s f---ups, be­gins with ec­stasy.” Hav­ing been given a few weeks off to get his head straight, Ryan has been reen­listed by his mob­ster boss, Dan, to help forge a new drugs route to western Ire­land via the Camorra in south­ern Italy. The half-Ital­ian Ryan is per­fect for the task – he even speaks a pass­able Neapoli­tan.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions are fruitful, and the first ship­ment ar­rives. Dan is de­lighted, Ryan torn: he wants out of the busi­ness but ex­tri­ca­tion from the un­der­world will be fraught with dan­ger. Then there’s the lure of the ready cash and the role of “mu­si­cal di­rec­tor” that Dan is of­fer­ing him at a new night­club. Karine, study­ing for her ex­ams, gives him an ul­ti­ma­tum: it’s her or Dan. Dan wins.

When Karine sends Ryan pack­ing, Natalie en­ters the frame: sexy, thrill-seek­ing and posh (or posh, at least, for Cork). The two fall in lust. Natalie has a ten­dency to “fetishise au­then­tic­ity” – she likes a bit of rough – but is equally thrilled to learn that Ryan is an ac­com­plished pi­anist. “Do you ever hear Philip Glass when you cum?” she asks him in a text. Karine, mean­while, lurks in the shad­ows with some ques­tions of her own.

Toby Lichtig en­joys this tale of an Ir­ish mob­ster’s bat­tle for redemp­tion

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