A Northern Irish writer stirs savagery, romance and family mystery into a pool of blood and guts.
Setting the tone emphatically and early, memoirist Millar (On the Brinks, 2003, not reviewed) sets the first chapter of his novel in an abattoir where Paul Goodman, out of work for a year, endures humiliating, gut-churningly gory initiation rites in order to nail a job. His intimidating boss, Shank, also employs his own two daughters: Violet, a scarred, kitten-drowning psychopath; and Geordie, who suffers from a creeping muscle-wasting disease and wears metal braces on her legs. Goodman, a snooker fanatic whose father disappeared when he was young, falls for Geordie, earning the displeasure of his best friend, the ironically named Lucky. Paul also has a benefactor, Philip Kennedy, who runs the local pawnshop owned by his obese, diabetic wife and sells Paul a beautiful snooker cue. Grotesque characters (especially the females), bodily functions and fluids and overwrought emotions characterize this short, gothic semi-fable in which not much happens until Lucky witnesses a murder committed by Shank and brings down bloody retribution on the heads of himself and Paul. It is left to Geordie, aided by Kennedy—a conscience-stricken ex-hitman responsible for the murder of Paul’s father, for a sectarian crime he did not commit—to come to the rescue. Millar’s brief and brutal tale of fathers—good, bad and absent—takes place in a twilight zone only rarely pierced by references to place and time. Occasional poetic phrases and gestures to high-flown themes like repentance and forgiveness fail to dislodge the theatrical, noir-ish criminality.
Heavily delineated genre fiction cross-cut with psychological parable and some regional punch, but too devoted to viscera and effluvia.