The agony and the (shipment of) ecstasy
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