Helen R Brown

The gangster life of Ryan

Set in Co. Cork, The Blood Miracles may be standard gangster stuff, but the chemical kick of the prose is entirely original

The gangster life of Ryan
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The Blood Miracles

Lisa McInerney

John Murray, pp. 297, £

Lisa McInerney found a brilliant way to turn heads and hone her craft as the

‘Sweary Lady’ behind the ‘Arse End of Ireland’ blog. Taking a gonzo approach to the life she knew — first a council estate in Co. Galway, then a selection of much nicer houses in Cork — she let rip as an ‘amplified, wittier, crankier version of myself’. She took that mood of wild pace and confidence into her first novel, The Glorious Heresies, and it paid off. Her boisterous tale of Munster drug dealers, nailed as ‘Trainspotting with a heart’ by online magazine The Pool, won both the Baileys Prize for women’s fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut novels.

When critics repeatedly commented on the ‘maleness’ of both her prose and her subject matter, she bit back on her website, concerned that these poor misguided souls might think ‘women are best suited to gentle pursuits, like embroidery’. And in knocking out this second novel in the trilogy and a screenplay for her first (the rights have been snapped up by the production company Fifty Fathoms, which has a deal to develop further series for Sky Atlantic), she tells them to get stitched.

The Blood Miracles finds us back in the company of the sensitive drug dealer Ryan Cusack. We knew him as a motherless teen, battered by his alcoholic dad, shifting a few pills and hauled into a gangland killing. He lost his virginity to kind, clever Karine in a room still Blu-tacked with footy posters.

Six years on, Karine is still his ‘ould doll’, but Ryan picks up random ‘wans’ when mashed on his own product. Now a nurse, Karine’s a force for social good and is frustrated by Ryan’s failure to walk away from a life that’s

about moving about all day, scared shitless, talking shite and throwing shapes at those in the same boat, but knowing it’s all chestnuts and mottos and platitudes, like you’re working off a script... a boil on the arse of your own country.

But Ryan can’t get clean. Cork’s not big or forgiving enough to hide him. He’s now ‘owned’ by Dan, a rising dealer — ‘a wunderkind, hand-reared to take a bullet for his keeper’. He’s got a staff and a GTI. And Dan is one of two ‘professional savages’ who slip into the role of fucked-up father figures while Ryan’s real dad is lost to Aldi whisky. He knows he should be playing the piano like his long dead Mama taught him. He has a gift that’s wasting until a strange old crone lures him back to the ivories. But he makes a staggering number of bad decisions for a smart lad.

The plot’s a slippery snake of dodgy deals and deadly double crosses, with a series of handbrake turns at the end. It’s standard gangster stuff, spiked into originality by the chemical kick of McInerney’s prose. She cuts the pure grade of her literary language with feral street slang, ending with a product that generates enough adrenalin to ensure the ropier metaphors skid past like hallucinations. On ecstasy, Ryan feels his ‘lashes lift from his skin’ and ‘chews notes’ of trance music, as euphoria surges through his groin then leaves him ‘propped up against the parapet of the morning, peaceful, papery-thin’. The sex is both honest and thrilling, a slipping of hips beneath patterned, pastel duvets. Nothing is dumbed down. ‘Do you hear Philip Glass when you come?’ smirks a posh girl Ryan picks up.

McInerney has promised the trilogy will follow a thematic arc of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. I hope her surviving cast makes a go of their EDM dreams. But I bet it’ll be murder on the dance floor.