In this gifted Irish writer’s muscular, magical, and often salty prose, several lives take shape as two older men look for a young woman in a ferry terminal.
Maurice and Charles, both past 50, are “fading Irish gangsters” once involved in bringing Moroccan hashish to Ireland via Spain. As the novel opens, they’re sitting in the Algeciras ferry terminal because they’ve learned that Maurice’s daughter, Dilly, who took off three years earlier, may be coming through on her way to Tangier. As the men question young vagrant travelers about Dilly—there’s a complicated dog connection, among other things, that identifies such targets—flashbacks reveal the men’s drug-trading days, dovetailing with Ireland’s roaring Celtic Tiger economy. With wealth come poor choices, paranoia, and real threats. Maurice’s marriage to Cynthia suffers, the men fall out—marked by a brilliant barroom scene—and over this trio hangs a much larger question that helps explain the Dilly vigil at Algeciras. The daughter is revealed as a strong, intriguing character in all-too-brief appearances while the pivotal Cynthia inexplicably gets short shrift. Mostly the two men talk, with a profligate, profane, comic splendor that mixes slang, Gaelic, artful insult, and the liturgy of long friendship. Barry (Beatlebone, 2015, etc.) delights in the sound of two voices at play. In City of Bohane (2011), the banter of a brace of thugs named Stanners and Burke winds through the main tale. In the story “Ernestine and Kit” from Dark Lies the Island (2013), two women in their 60s trade seemingly harmless insults to comic effect, barely masking their evil intentions. Ever playful, the author titles the new novel’s opening chapter “The Girls and the Dogs,” which is also the title of a story in Dark Lies the Island that alludes to the Moroccan hash trade.
Barry adds an exceptional chapter to the literary history of a country that inspires cruelty and comedy and uncommon writing.