Yeats Is Dead
doesn't seem like a book so much as a protracted pub crawl in the company of 15 hyper-articulate potty-mouths. Roddy Doyle
, Frank McCourt
, Anthony Cronin
, and a dozen of their lesser-known compatriots have written a literary mystery that isn't terribly literary and doesn't really hang together as a mystery. It is, however, a showcase for riffing by some very clever writers. The novel commences with a chapter from Doyle, wherein a couple of cops on the take raid the trailer of a down-and-outer. They've been instructed to sack the joint by the all-knowing underworld crime boss Mrs. Bloom (much given to crying "O yes" in proper Joycean fashion). Unfortunately, the two policemen accidentally kill the resident hobo, and in doing so set off a whirlwind of brutality, inner-city intrigue, and unlikely romance.
Each chapter is written by a different writer, and each writer seems eager to outdo the last by killing off as many characters as possible. This can be good, bloody fun. It can also lead to some creaky exposition along the lines of this passage from Cronin's chapter: "The guard that got shot. What did he think he was up to? And what was his connection, if any, with the Tommy Reynolds murder?" More successful are the writers who altogether give up the ghost of creating a cohesive mystery, and instead wallow around in literary references and ridiculously purple prose. Here novelist Joseph O'Connor tries his hand at an action scene: "Gravity and Mrs. Roberts had entered into conflict, and, as devotees of the late Sir Isaac will confirm, out of such a negotiation may emerge one victor." Not exactly Tom Clancy, and a good thing, too.
The Irish must be a genial race, for they keep turning out these collaborative efforts, the most recent being Finbar's Hotel and Ladies' Night at Finbar's Hotel. (By the way, all royalties from the sale of this particular round robin will go to Amnesty International.) In any case, the format can be tough on the writer who must bundle it all up in the final chapter. Here the task falls to honorary Irishman Frank McCourt, and let it be said, he does his salty, saucy best. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Sponsored by Amnesty International to help raise funds for its work, this round-robin mystery, coauthored by 15 esteemed Irish writers, including Frank McCourt, Roddy Doyle and Conor McPherson, is more a literary curiosity than a compelling read. After one of two policemen who are moonlighting as ruffians accidentally shoots a man they've been questioning, Nestor and Roberts find themselves on the body-strewn trail of the mysterious symbol Y8S=+ (no rewards for puzzling it out), a miraculous skin cream and a previously unknown last novel by James Joyce. Nods to Ulysses abound. A copy of the book figures prominently in the plot, while Nestor and Roberts work for a mobster named Mrs. Bloom. Though some lilting Irish prose and notably bawdy passages will appeal, the novel proceeds by fits and starts to a preordained conclusion. There are some keen observations and an understated wit that verges on the epigrammatic ("Her blue eyes glittered with the absence of mental health"). But the eccentricity grows mechanical and a little bit of the blarney goes a long way; consequently the braggadocio becomes forced. ("He hated Bewley's, hated its claustrophobic mahogany interior, its slow black-clad waitresses with their big culchie faces. And yet he always seemed to end up here whenever the black dog of depression was pissing down his back.") Thus, while this mulligan stew of a mystery is sometimes tasty, it's hardly nit picking to point out that the porridge contains more than a few lumps. (June 16)Forecast: With a 75,000-copy first printing set for Bloomsday, plus some big-name contributors, this should attract plenty of initial attention, but may be too quirky for lasting appeal.
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