Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review of Headbanger by Hugo Hamilton (Secker and Warburg, 1996)

Garda Pat Coyne fancies himself as Dublin’s Dirty Harry, the cop that’s going to take the fight to the scum of the city and kick their asses. To his colleagues he’s Mr Suicide, always taking things too far, putting himself and his colleagues in unnecessary danger. Coyne works out of Irishtown station, dealing with the underbelly of society – the beatings, muggings, suicides, rapes, riots, drunk and disorderlies. What Coyne really wants, however, is a shot a gangland boss, ‘Drummer’ Cunningham. Cunningham runs the city with ruthless efficiency. Fed up with Drummer evading justice with bravado and fancy lawyers, Coyne decides enough is enough. Coyne’s justice will prevail, setting the two men on a collision course.

Headbanger is an in-depth character study of a cop teetering on the edge of madness, seemingly determined to careen down into its depths regardless of its consequences. Hamilton is good at capturing the small details of life, the nuances and foibles of folk and the spaces they inhabit. The characters, their relationships, and the sense of 1990s Dublin are well penned, and I thought the ending was very nicely done. Despite his eccentricities, Coyne and his work and home life are credible, and it’s difficult not to build up an empathy for a troubled soul. For my taste the book is too much of a character study; I prefer more action and dialogue and less introspection. What is refreshing, however, is the focus on an ordinary cop, someone who hasn’t gained rank or a position in an elite squad of some kind. Overall, an enjoyable slice of Dublin noir.

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