Lisa McInerney gives us in her central character Ryan Cusack a drug dealer and aspiring club DJ who is a magnet for trouble and chaos both in his love life and in his place in the criminal underworld.
Following on from the award-winning The Glorious Heresies, this book stands alone but never stands still.
We meet Ryan this time in the months before his 21st birthday working for the fearsome Dan Kane, who is about to open a new route for ecstasy tablets through Naples to Cork.
Ryan’s late mother was Italian, so he is useful to Dan in working the contacts on the Italian side.
Ryan is also encouraged to believe that his musical ambitions will flourish in a new Cork city nightclub called Catalyst.
Electronic dance music is liberally referenced throughout the story from 65daysofstatic to Fatboy Slim.
Using some of the namechecked music during a reading of the book is a handy way of sound-tracking the experience.
And you can see how McInerney has drawn from the chopped beats, erratic rhythms and swooping sounds to create her own literary pulse. Her sentences are punchy, her characters pugnacious.
She is very comfortable with dialogue and the exchanges are quick-fire and full of aggressive street argot. Sex scenes catch the moment without flinching or becoming graphic.
As for men measuring up to each other in verbal and violent jousts, it feels real, although at times she can’t help herself, and some of the criminal characters do become overly articulate to the point of verbosity.
Ryan is the main man. His long-suffering girlfriend Katrine is hoping that he’ll turn his back on crime and be more of a stand-up guy. Instead he turns his back on her and gets off with Natalie who we soon find out is also sleeping with the boss, Dan Kane.
This triangle is one of the most fruitful sources of sparks in the narrative. But the sparks come too in the many Love/Hate-style gangster set pieces when the various local hard-chaws lock horns.
If it feels at many times like Love/Hate re-cast as a Cork soap opera it is probably — in literary terms — closest to the criminal roller-coaster ride of a Colin Bateman book.
McInerney uses the trappings of the cheeky-chappy criminal shtick — the one who is always losing, always getting the crap kicked out of him, always saying what he shouldn’t say, always screwing up his love life, but then maybe at the end, just maybe, he’ll outwit everyone and pull off the masterstroke. But in fairness to McInerney, she is putting more into this routine than she takes out of it. She does this by dint of the sheer force of characterisation.
Ryan is given an opportunity to bare his soul through several moments of confession/prayer to his dear departed mother.
These give our hero a chance to show his tender side and give us an opportunity to care about him and get a glimpse of his inner workings in contrast to his outer skulduggery.
Lots of the relationships rattle with a very persuasive ring, but one which is quite prominent in the story — that between Ryan and the much older Maureen — feels like we are disembarking from the central narrative lines in order to have it played out for us.
It works OK as far as it goes, but does not gel quite so well with the book.
Overall it is lively, entertaining, salty and funny and without overdoing the idiosyncrasies of Cork speech there is a strong sense of place.