there's no hero like a plucky young newspaper boy (see: Spider-Man, Newsies, Citizen Kane)—bonus points if he's Irish. And though Alan Glynn's Bloodland is set in the present, I took the liberty of imagining protagonist Jimmy Gilroy in a porkpie hat.
Gilroy is an out-of-work journalist, a casualty of the newspaper industry's contraction who's been reduced to writing a celebrity bio to pay his mortgage. The book's subject is party girl Susie Monaghan, a coke-fueled, Lindsay Lohan-esque reality star whose death in a helicopter accident prompted a national outpouring of grief. Despite the tabloid trashiness of his subject matter, Gilroy struggles to frame the collective reaction to her death as nostalgia "not just for the dead girl [but] for the dead boom as well, for the vanished good times she'd been the potent, scented, stockinged, lubricious poster-girl for." But when Gilroy gets a call from an old friend requesting that he lay off writing the bio, it becomes clear that Susie's death is more than a lofty, labored metaphor for the end of a prosperous era. Behind the spectacle of her death, Gilroy begins to discern the root causes of why that era ended in the first place.
Bloodland's careful plotting brings together a handful of narrative threads, all told in close third person: In addition to Gilroy, there's a man working as a private security contractor in Iraq; the head of a global mining operation; and a developer whose biggest investment sits unfinished, taken over by squatters. These perspectives converge over the course of the novel, revealing a tightly woven picture of global corporate influence and corruption.
Glynn's work has drawn comparisons to John le Carré—the literary establishment's way of giving a stamp of approval to a genre novel. But the le Carré comparison does usefully illuminate Bloodland's bold, pointed topicality: The action in Bloodland involves not governments maneuvering in a global power struggle, like le Carré's best work, but profit-driven multinational corporations with little concern for national interest. The consequences of their actions, though, are felt as directly as any Cold War posturing—from the minefield in the Congo where children use their hands to dig up valuable minerals, to back-door maneuvering that could well influence the outcome of the next American presidential election. From the inauspicious beginnings of a dead reality TV star, Glynn's great novel finds an impressive, surprising scope. ALISON HALLETT