Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

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Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: Lisa McInerney's explosive follow-up to her 2015 debut The Glorious Heresies. A complex and dark crime thriller set in southern Ireland.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: April 2017
Publisher: John Murray Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444798890

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Like all twenty-year-olds, Ryan Cusack is trying to get his head around who he is. This is not a good time for his boss to exploit his dual heritage by opening a new black market route from Italy to Ireland. It is certainly not a good time for his adored girlfriend to decide he's irreparably corrupted. And he really wishes he hadn't accidentally caught the eye of an ornery grandmother who fancies herself his saviour.

There may be a way clear of the chaos in the business proposals of music promoter Colm and in the attention of the charming, impulsive Natalie. But now that his boss's ambitions have rattled the city, Ryan is about to find out what he's made of, and it might be that chaos is in his blood.

I read Lisa McInerney's debut The Glorious Heresies last year, lured by the mention of the big-name prize it won. Spun out of the writings on her blog, 'The Arse End of Ireland', it forms the first part in her proposed 'sex, drugs and rock n' roll Cork trilogy'. Ordinarily, discovering that an apparently standalone novel is to be the first in a series can prove a tad annoying; in this case, I was thrilled she'd be revisiting the characters.

Heresies painted a dank and venal picture of the underworld of Cork city: a landscape of post-crash poverty and everything that comes attached: drink and drugs and crime and every other seedy act imaginable. It's at odds with the public image of Cork as a cosmopolitan tourist destination, emblematic of the anger and disconsolation of those left economically or socially adrift. So, too, are the cast of characters that inhabit it: Jimmy Phelan the gangster and his batty old mother Maureen; drug-addled prostitute Georgie; poor pathetic Tony Cusack the alcoholic and his rabble of motherless kids. It's doubtful whether any of them can be saved, and even more doubtful whether that's what any of them actually want.

Heresies was an ensemble piece; this time around, McInerney centres the story around young ex-con drug dealer Ryan Cusack. Even at twenty-one, he's the most gloriously arrogant screw-up, and yet he's got the gift all the worst bad boys have – it's almost impossible not to take his side. Somehow, be it for his smart mouth or his incurable habit of trying his luck, he gets you to root for him. There's certainly nothing to envy about him, least of all the back-and-forth with his long-suffering girlfriend Karine, herself perhaps the only character in the entire saga determinedly on the straight and narrow. Their relationship is messy and chaotic and so painfully twenty-first century: when they inevitably fight and break up for the nth time, she stands over his shoulder and orders him to delete all of her nudes, anticipating what might happen to them. When he badgers her incessantly by text, she can't help but reply.

'Exuberant' is a word I've repeatedly read used to describe McInerney, and her writing is certainly that: it fizzles with emotion and drama, so vivid I could picture every single scene in front of me, each character's voice distinct. It is bleak, painfully so, veering sharply between tragedy and comedy, and McInerney more than earns her title of Sweary Lady (the dialogue is filthier than a tramp's underwear, and the sex scenes downright pornographic) but it is shot through with a stinging, crackling dark humour that keeps you wanting to read on. By the final page I felt as though I'd been beaten and battered. There are some threads still to tie up – but I am confident the final instalment will do just that. I can't wait.

For further reading, if you like Irish fiction with a bit of bite, The Last Four Days Of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey is a lighter read but with a touch more gallows humour. You might also enjoy This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech.

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