Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Guns of Heaven (Pete Hamill, 1983)

This novel has three parts. At the beginning we join NYC reporter Sam Briscoe landing on the Belfast airport. He's an old school, disillusioned man of the world. Divorced (his wife - of course - couldn't and wouldn't keep up with his lifestyle) with a daughter in some Swiss private boarding school. He is also an IRA supporter and had come to northern Ireland to do an "annual" St.Patrick's day article. His uncle, big IRA shot, arranges him an exclusive interview with the new leader Steel. During this interview Steel gives Sam a mysterious envelope and asks him to deliver it to America. Things begins to accelerate now: we get a first corpse, Sam goes to Switzerland to visit his daughter but he's followed and his life is threatened so he takes his brat to her mother in Spain and then he returns home.

So plot had thickened a lot and we are now in a mighty NYC and we expect (at least I did) that Sam will do some ass kicking journalistic investigation. Unfortunately he doesn't. He's so streetwise that he doesn't really need to. He knows everyone: from well informed ex-junkies, bartenders, cops, fellow reporters, lawyers and even biology professor on Columbia university. So basically he just wonders around asking questions and in the meantime story gets more and more convoluted and hard to follow. Pace drops noticeably; we need to wait for a second corpse until page 109. Oh yeah, he also gets laid three times with a woman he had just picked up in the bar, so there can be no doubt about his coolness.

Third part begins when all this shit becomes just too incomprehensible to follow. It changes from some kind of mystery into some kind of "against the clock" thriller. Besides IRA we also get UVF thrown into the pot plus another fanatical Christan fraction plus FBI plus some arms dealer plus assassination conspiracy and so on. And needles to say, his kid gets kidnapped. There's actually a moment when Sam does Hercule Poirot type of shit explaining whodunit and what the fuck is going on. I read that paragraph twice and still wasn't sure.

Plotting is disastrous but Hamill gets away with it because it's written brilliantly. I mean really, really good! So good that sometimes even hurts the novel because it is so above the simple language and cheap gags usually used in pulp novels (which this still is, make no mistake). Little objection I had was once again this fucking New York fascination/near obsession thing. In every book that takes place in this city, we need to endure all that crap about its history, endless descriptions of the streets, subway stations, jazz, boxing...

But the thing I'll remember Guns of Heaven the most for is total bluntness of author's sympathies for IRA. This was probably a bit strange in the early 80s, but it's quite amazing reading it in post 9/11 world order. Those guys were terrorists, there's no doubt about it. And Hamill does try to be objective (and probably succeeds I think) but at the same time there's no doubt he's not neutral.

So when I checked this guy it came as no surprise that he is reporter with Irish roots, so this explains both quality of writing and his feelings about all that shit that happened in northern Ireland. His  life and career seemed interesting enough to decide to check out something else from him. But not crime novel this time and definitely not stuff about New York! Drinking Life sounds interesting :)

A bit unusual, still enjoyable, personal, thought provoking, entertaining, still relevant.



Sam Briscoe, reporter

Starts briefly in Belfast, moves to Switzerland and then concludes in "...that capital of Satan, Sodom-by-the-Sea, New York City"

Body count: 6

Sheila Rafferty, "A good woman, for a Yank". Marta Torres with whom he has a bit ambiguous relationship, try to figure it out yourself: "I liked her more than anyone I knew. Buit I didn't know what to do about it." And there's also his whining wife and maybe we can count Red Emma (Sam's Jaguar) too.

Once briefly when an explosion destroys near pub. Second one is pretty standard and unoriginal: "A Jagged red scribble went through my eyes, and then there was blackness."

Not really sure about its meaning. Main sub-plot is about one group of fanatics trying to steal large arms shipment from another. Have no idea where/how heaven came into the picture. 

Good as expected from Hard Case crime. But not very accurate - I guess chick is Sheila but the only time she's outside the McDaid's is when pub is blown to pieces by a planted bomb. Her description of that evening matches though: she does have red hair, green blouse, large breasts (for a thin girl).

Cool lines:  
The thin, moustached bartender wore a Pioneer pin on his shirt, a sign that he had taken the pledge never to drink. Such Irishman are prized bartenders on the Irish saloon circuit, but I never trusted them to fix me a drink more complicated than a beer.

I slipped into the scalding hot bath. I jumped, moaned, then settled. The womb.

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