Written by Alan Glynn — A conspiracy thriller that moves with ease between recession-hit Ireland, the killing fields of Congo and the political wrangling of the United States, Bloodland is a fast, furious and depressingly plausible story. This is not the kind of book I would normally pick up, as I find conspiracy thrillers a bit lightweight on credibility and characterisation. However, I enjoyed this one tremendously.
Admittedly, the first couple of chapters are baffling as the author introduces a large number of characters and apparently unconnected incidents. However, if you persevere and manage to sort out your Jimmys from your Daves, and your Larrys from your Clarks, you are in for a treat. It’s a story of greed, hunger for power and the lure of celebrity status; a story of has-beens, wannabes and failures; a story of what happens if you take your eyes off the ball for even one minute. In short, story of our times.
A private security firm protecting convoys travelling in the Congo approaches something looking suspiciously like a roadside trap. Under-employed young journalist Jimmy Gilroy is tasked with writing the biography of tabloid starlet Susie Monaghan, who died in a helicopter crash, but is warned off it by his father’s former business partner. The former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland spends all day watching rubbish TV and eyeing his drinks cabinet instead of writing his memoirs. Property mogul Dave Conway is in serious financial trouble, terrified of being imprisoned for involvement in some shady dealings, yet lusting after his French au pair. Meanwhile, Clark Rundle is the CEO of a US engineering and mining conglomerate, while his brother JJ has got his sights set on the White House.
What do all these disparate characters have in common? Well, when a couple out walking their dog find a body in the Wicklow hills, and a nosy journalist starts wondering about the helicopter crash, things come to a head. Jimmy becomes an investigator almost in spite of himself. He’s not always the sharpest tool in the box, and often discovers things by luck rather than by careful planning. Yet he is a fairly loveable character who guides us through the complex narrative, the glue holding things together despite the constant shifts in points of view.
His naivety is in welcome contrast to the cynical manipulation, world-weariness and rotten core of most of the other characters. However, it does somewhat defy belief that, although Jimmy gets ever-nearer to the heart of the problem, there are no serious attempts being made on his life until nearly the end of the book. Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of other victims to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Glynn is a master at throwing the reader tidbits of information at well-spaced intervals, keeping you hooked and turning page after page. He is also excellent at making each of his protagonists, however unlikeable, completely believable and well-rounded. Each one, no matter how monstrous, has a flaw and a vulnerable point. Even the obnoxious Clark Rundle has a weakness for an escort called Nora. And I found myself pitying Dave Conway as he sits contemplating ravenous Mother Nature and her nettles engulfing his failed property development at Tara Meadows.
Blood Land has a number of such arresting moments. My personal favourite is the meeting between the ruthless Western capitalist Rundle and the equally greedy and even more ruthless Congolese Colonel Kimbela. It’s a real Heart of Darkness moment rewritten for the modern world. Who would have thought that Chinese investments on the African continent could make such a riveting subject?
It is much harder to write political thrillers nowadays, when we all have lost our trust in governments and the big corporations. We expect greed and corruption, so it is more of a challenge for an author to surprise us. However, this book succeeds in doing just that, and is worthy of comparisons to classics of the genre such as Six Days of the Condor, Marathon Man and The Constant Gardener. Highly recommended.
Faber and Faber
CFL Rating: 5 Stars