Friday, August 7, 2009

Review of Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty, Serpent’s Tail (2009)

The Irish crime blogs, Crime Always Pays and Crime Scene NI, have been heaping plaudits on Adrian McKinty for a number of weeks coinciding with the publication of Fifty Grand. Often when I read a book that’s given such strong endorsements I’m left a little disappointed because as good as the book is, it doesn’t quite live up to the expectation. I approached Fifty Grand then with a little bit of caution, especially after the highly negative review in the Irish Times a couple of weeks ago. I needn’t have worried - Fifty Grand is good as the hype and then some.

The frozen lake and the black vacuum sky and the dead man pleading for the return of his remaining days.
“There must be some kind of mistake.”

“You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“You’re gonna pay for this.”

Viejo Companero, I’ve paid in advance. And before he can come up with anymore material I unroll a line of duct tape, cut it, and place it over his mouth.

Mercado is a Cuban detective, her brother Ricky works as a journalist for the Cuba Times. Despite their father being branded a traitor, abandoning them as children to escape to the US to start a new life, they have managed to carve out careers for themselves. Then they get news that their father has been killed in a hit and run accident in the ski resort of Fairview, Colorado, an Aspen wannabe, where Hollywood film stars and producers are setting up home in luxury ski lodges. Nobody is brought to justice for the death of the local ratcatcher. To track down her father’s killer and avenge his death Mercado is determined to head to the US regardless of the consequences for her family and colleagues if she fails to return. Faking a trip to Mexico to attend an interview for a university course, she skips over the border and makes her way to Fairview, where the service labour are illegal immigrants under the direction of Esteban, a US-born Mexican, and the local Sheriff runs the town as his own personal fiefdom determined to cash in on the town’s growing popularity. Working as a maid to the rich and famous and posing as an insurance agent Mercado has only a few days to determine who the killer is, take her revenge, and make it back to Mexico before her travel permit expires. But nothing is as simple as it first appears.

McKinty’s narrative is taut, lyrical and well crafted. Fifty Grand is all muscle and no flab. The characterization is superb, the dialogue snappy and real, the story compelling, and the prose often reads like poetry. Mercado is a well drawn character, flawed, determined, conflicted; at sea in a consumerist society of which she has no experience, using her cop instincts to get by. McKinty does an excellent job of exposing modern Cuba and the politics and corruption of small town America and Hollywood celebrity without it ever becoming a sermon. There were a few plot conveniences and coincidences, but then there nearly always are and nothing stuck out as being so improbable that it ruined the story. I was hooked from the first page, gripped by Mercado’s journey and the various twists and turns.

Did I enjoy this book – hell, yes. Criticisms – minor stuff. Do I want to read his other books – right now! (they're already on order)

1 comment:

adrian mckinty said...


Thanks for the review, I really appreciate it. I'm glad you liked the book.