Tuesday, 10 July 2012

His decisions, their lives - Peril by Ruby Barnes

Since launch fifteen months ago as an ebook and three months ago in paperback, my quirky crime thriller Peril has received a good numbers of reviews on blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing and other places. A lot of readers have enjoyed the book, some haven't, but the main character Ger Mayes certainly provokes a reaction. He's a hedonistic anti-hero whose bad decisions lead to layers of disaster. Do I wish I'd written a less genre-bending, more vanilla crime thriller? Sometimes, yes. Other times, when Peril gets a great review like the one below, no.
I enjoyed writing peril so much that I'm now 21,000 words into the sequel, working title Yellow Ribbon.

Here's the latest feedback on Peril from John Gaynard, an Irish author living in Paris.

In line with my reviewing policy of only giving a write-up to books I have enjoyed, I now have great pleasure in making a few comments on Ruby Barnes's Peril, a novel which could also have been titled, "The Power of Positive Thinking for Feckless Scots Bent on Raising Levels of Dissatisfaction Among Irish Wives, Mistresses, Relatives, Beggars and Rail Customers Who Have the Temerity to Make Complaints".

Ger Mayes is a loveable ne'er do well from North of that Border uniting Scotland and England. Married to an upright modern Irish woman who, needless to say, indulges in quickies with her personal trainer, Ger is paid what seems to be a reasonable salary by the complaints office of Irish Railways. His minimal investment of time, and low respect for his customers, makes Ger a poster boy for the most negative, biased sorts of comments made by Dubliners about immigrant labor. Ger's only self-questioning comes from the wonder and anger generated when he does not get promoted over the heads of some, admittedly obnoxious, colleagues who do, however, respect reasonable standards of productivity, putting in an hour of work and a full five hours of gossip and back-biting on the days when they're in the office--and not taking their statutory sick days off.

Although Ger is more than a bit of a wine and food snob--and should know that after two or three glasses his taste-buds will have had as much as they can reasonably enjoy--when out with the lads he has a habit of drinking himself into that state of mindlessness where his head stops working but his feet keep walking. One night, in a city of Dublin that could pass for the capital of the Chechen Republic under attack by the Russians, he wanders befuddled and lost, finding it impossible to suss his way to the train station and back home to the outer suburbs, where he can reconnect with the middle-class way of life as it developed in late 20th and early 21st century Ireland: memorization of suburban railway time tables, calculating which train will get him into work just after time and out of work just before time, formal dinners where he can whimsically analyze--in the company of mortgaged-up-to-the-hilt neighbors--the merits of different types of pasta, tomato sauce, red wine, white wine and Indian or other take-away dishes while ogling and caressing the knees of his wife's best friend.

Ger stumbles into a fight with a Romanian beggar, kills the man and flees the scene. The next day, unsurprisingly, the murder does not trouble his conscience. Its consequences only begin to concern him when he realizes he didn't dispose of the murder weapon so that it couldn't be found. His worries are compounded when it turns out that another member of the beggar clan saw him do it. The only one of the ten commandments that Ger respects is the eleventh one, "Thou shan't get caught", but, when he does get found out, every problem becomes an opportunity, in line with his innate approach to life, that of the devil-may-care chancer. Any event that would render a less hedonistic man catatonic with fright becomes something to flip to his advantage in his only serious quest: how to satisfy every one of his five senses, every day, in every way.

The Head of the Beggar clan sets his people on Ger's tail. They take him to some weird and wonderful places as they inform him how they will exact retribution. One of those places is a mansion in the middle of the Phoenix Park occupied by a gang of people who wander the streets of Dublin in search of ill-gotten gain (this is NOT the Irish National Police Force, which occupies a totally different mansion in the Park).

Although the main plot of the book has nothing to do with how Irish Complaints Offices' resort to Soviet style methods to keep their more recalcitrant employees mouthing sweet nothings to dissatisfied customers, or ass-licking around the coffee machine, there are very some very funny scenes when Ger is put on obligatory sick leave for questioning his non-promotion and told to report to a psychiatrist on a near-daily basis to prove that his behavior is normal. This interferes with him spending afternoons in the sack of his anorexic mistress.

I began to read this in a hot and humid hotel room in an African city, feeling nostalgic for a few words describing the ould sod. But Ruby Barnes's belly-laugh provoking, high-wire act of dissecting the pretensions of modern-day Ireland, and showing what it takes to thrive, namely the "Ger Attitude", replaced the desire for the fickle charms of Kathleen ni Houlihan with the commonsense thought that I should stay where I was. I read the final electronic page of this fine comic novel of Ireland, laid the Kindle beside me and began to hum that age-old song of wisdom, McAlpine's Fusiliers, "Oh Mother Dear, I'm over here and I'm never coming back....."

Nevertheless, a few days later, I found myself on a flying visit to Dublin. The city was in the midst of a four-day heatwave, with nary a beggar, dead, alive, or in the Phoenix Park to be seen. Whose view of Dublin was the right one? That of Ger, Ruby Barnes's main character in Peril, or the one of my own eyes and the Irish Tourist Board's? I decided to download to my Kindle another Ruby Barnes novel. I recommend you do the same.

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