Winterland opens with the gangland-style murder of young Noel Rafferty in the beer garden of a Dublin pub. His family, including his aunts and one uncle, gather at his grief-stricken mother’s home to offer their support, though given his shady dealings in things criminal no one is terribly surprised that Noel’s life has ended in such a way. His youngest Aunt, Gina, was closer to him in age than she is to any of her siblings but she hardly ever saw her nephew, having grown weary of hearing about the trouble he has gotten into. However, when another member of the family dies on the same evening Gina starts to wonder if there isn’t something far more sinister at play.
I loved the way the story is constructed. It’s almost more like a play in the way action moves from one setting to another. At the beginning of each set piece you think things are going to unfold in a particular way but Glynn manages to twist and turn things very cleverly so that virtually nothing you expect to happen eventuates, while surprises happen all the way along. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the entire story takes place against the backdrop of a very modern Ireland seemingly at the exact moment when the country’s status as the Celtic tiger of the world economy was coming grievously unstuck and those with any political clout at all were doing whatever it took to stay afloat. This gives the book both intensity and a truly contemporary feel. You really do feel like you might be reading the real story behind the news headlines.
There are two main characters who carry the story and both of them are brilliantly drawn. Gina Rafferty becomes increasingly angry but she doesn’t automatically know how to channel her misgivings and rage so she makes mistakes, some of which are deadly. Her yearning to do the right thing by her family member is palpable though and she does not give up even when it seems like the only way to save her life. The other character who we see most of is Paddy Norton, a property developer and political player from the old days who is still playing puppet master to today’s political elite. His need to have things happen the way he wants them to drives everything he does and watching him deal with the fallout when things go awry is mesmerizing.
There are other brilliant characters and enough stories within stories that a lesser writer would have lost several of the threads but Glynn holds this all together superbly. It is probably misleading to label this crime fiction as it has few of the conventions of the genre and, sadly enough, the label will turn some people off. This is one of those books that defies easy categorisation and is recommended to anyone who enjoys great writing, compelling story-telling and terrific characters.
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I read this as my first book to count towards the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011
Keishon at Just Another Crime Fiction Blog also discussed it last year after not finishing the book. Her post and the comments it generated also make terrific reading about the nature and value of book reviewing in the modern world.
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My rating 4/5
Publisher Faber and Faber [this edition 2010, original edition 2009]
Length 468 pages
Book Series standalone
Source I bought it