Alan Glynn is fast becoming my new favorite crime writer. His cerebral yet fast-paced thrillers are Exhibit A in how to spin a great story with a taut pace. In his latest book, Bloodland, the scale of intrigue and corruption is on a grand scale. The story spans three continents: Europe, North America and Africa.
At its center is investigative reporter Jimmy Gilroy, whose journalism days might be over but whose nose for a good story is as strong as ever. Out of work, he somehow lands a book contract to cover the story of Irish national celebrity Susie Monaghan, who famously occupied the national imagination for a time before she literally crashed and burned in a mysterious helicopter crash along the North Donegal coast. Just as Jimmy goes sniffing at the edges of the story, he is warned off by established professionals in the field. A public relations agent of sorts is even willing to offer Jimmy a more lucrative project—a biography of Ireland’s ex-prime minister, Larry Bolger—if Jimmy would only drop the Monaghan story.
Intrigued and desperate for money, Jimmy decides to at least pay Bolger a visit to find out what he can about the biography. Bolger, for his part, is fading. Even at the pinnacle of his career, Larry Bolger was a lackluster politician. While trying to parlay his position of authority into a job on the global scene, Bolger must battle an increasing addiction to alcohol and rescue a failing marriage while trying to write his memoir. When Jimmy and Bolger eventually meet to discuss this very same memoir, in an inebriated state, Bolger lets it slip that there are very dark and dangerous reasons for Susie Monaghan’s sudden death.
The plot thickens. Glynn introduces a whole set of seemingly disparate characters: a set of high-rolling brothers in the United States (who sound suspiciously like the Koch brothers); a warlord in the Congo; a super-rich tycoon in the United States; and even a UN inspector of Italian origin, Gianni Bonacci.
While the number of characters might seem overwhelming at first, persistence is richly rewarded—and in short order. Glynn does a great job at tying all the strands of the story together and the final reveals are breathless and fun. What makes Bloodland a better than average thriller is that Glynn trains his sights on society’s larger ills. How exactly do we treat our disadvantaged? What is the value of celebrity in a constant news juggernaut that is our media machine? How far will corporations go to pump up their bottom line? And what costs will our wanton materialism have? Glynn addresses these issues head on, all in the guise of a superb thriller. Bloodland is a perfect snapshot of the age we live in, which is why it works so effectively as a story.
In an author interview at the end of the book, Glynn points out Bloodland’s particular resonance for our times. “It’s a question of scale,” Glynn says in the interview, “Corporate power, for example, has grown exponentially in the last thirty years. Perhaps it’s a question of the inescapable and controlling nature of power in the modern world. These stories, consequently, are as relevant now, if not more so, than ever before.”
The helicopter crash that is the plot thesis for this fast-paced thriller occurred close to the conclusion of the “Fifth International Conference on Corporate and Business Ethics” in Drumcoolie Castle in Tipperary. The irony will not be lost on anybody who reads Bloodland.