HARDBARNED! The Blog

Reading With Your Ears: Adrian McKinty Novels

Behold, the DEAD trilogy: so good that I read it with my ears first and then again with my eyes.

When I was still HARDBARNED, as in stuck in a truck-driving, barn-hauling, barn-delivering, barn-repossessing, thumb-hammering, toe-stubbing, shin-smashing, forehead-bashing-against-the-side-of-the-barn-type of post-graduate job, roaming the desolate backwoods and backyards of several states in the rural American South, desperately seeking a foot in the door to some sort (any sort) of writing and editing career, I spent a lot of time in that truck and became an avid devourer of audiobooks. 

Today I have the option of convenient, free audiobook downloads via the innerwebs and my local city library, but during these years, all of the audiobooks I checked out from the tiny local branch in my small town were on compact disc or sometimes even on cassette, if they were ancient enough. I spend much less time on the road now, and sometimes I miss reading with my ears instead of my eyes.

I still grab an audiobook online if I'm planning a road trip, but they're now relegated to rare-treat status. Audiobooks are a completely different way to lose yourself in the rich and rewarding experience of a good book. When a great text is paired with an excellent voice actor, an otherwise moving story can be elevated into something else entirely, an emotional, even transcendent experience for the listener.

During those barn-hauling years, I'd go to the small local library once every couple of weeks and stock up on several audiobooks that looked good. I got through some fantastic books this way and attempted and discarded a few stinkers too.

There were biographies, memoirs and even college courses to be had, and I checked out some of those, but my favorites from that period of audio immersion included David McCullough's John Adams and 1776; Steve Martin's Born Standing Up and The Pleasure of My Company; Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men and The Road; and Stephen King's On Writing. The ones I gave up on are less memorable, but at the insistence of a friend, I at least attempted to endure the first Harry Potter audiobook. It didn't take. 

Behold: a more recent McKinty trilogy, well worth your time.

What did stick with me was my chance discovery of one Adrian McKinty, an Irish author new to me at that time. I first noticed the curious title on the spine: Dead I Well May Be. I looked closer. The audiobook had a compelling photo of an anonymous young man lounging with a cigarette, his handgun within reach.

I had never been much interested in detective fiction or "crime fiction," but the plot sounded intriguing: clever, enterprising young criminal mind with a love for literature and international culture leaves Ireland for America, falls for the wrong guy's girl, gets in over his head with local heavies, endures trans-continental trials: physical, emotional, existential; embarks on a single-minded mission of revenge.

I was sold on Dead I Well May Be before I even noticed the wholehearted endorsement by Frank McCourt, author of three memoirs I had previously enjoyed: Angela's Ashes, 'Tis and Teacher Man. Teacher Man was my favorite of McCourt's, though it hadn't convinced me to teach. I was still using that English MA to haul barns around, determined to one day earn my living by writing about something (anything) for someone (anyone). 

According to McCourt's cover blurb, McKinty was the Real Deal, but I was already sure I'd have to see what his Michael Forsythe protagonist/anti-hero was all about. I'm so glad I did. Dead I Well May Be is Die Hard for Shakespeare fans. Rilke for action heroes. It's the perfect unputdownable mashup of classic detective fiction, noir-whodunnit, poetry, philosophy, existentialism and blockbuster action-adventure films in lyrical, literate prose for period-specific pop culture fiends and creative liberal artists who get off on lovely language combined with some nail-biting scrapes and kick-ass fights.

In Michael Forsythe, McKinty created a nuanced hero worthy of his readers' time, a guy who was always smarter than the situation he found himself stuck in but human enough to actually care about. I can't compare McKinty to other writers who sell many more crime fiction books because I haven't read most of them, but I do feel as though, inexperienced in the genre as I may be, I am one of a lucky few who have discovered a hidden gem. It's inexplicable to me that this guy isn't more popular or better known, but we all know that popularity and quality are often polarized, and justice is rarely served.

Behold: two lessor-known one-shot favorites of mine by McKinty.

I was soon hooked and followed Michael Forsythe through McKinty's two DEAD sequels: The Dead Yard and The Bloomsday Dead, became a huge fan, read everything else McKinty wrote (excepting his young-adult Lighthouse trilogy, which I really should) and remain ready for more. I'm looking forward to his latest novel, The Sun is God, which looks like a fascinating work of historical fiction.

I've included photos of my favorite McKinty novels here, but it's impossible to overlook the contribution of narrator Gerard Doyle to the experience of listening to one of Adrian's books. Bringing life to the characters with an uncanny mastery of multiple regional dialects and inflections that add a satisfying layer of realism and emotional depth to a story that is already riveting, Doyle makes great content even better.

I've mentioned his blog before, but despite being a young man in his early 40s, Adrian McKinty is impossibly well-read and knows more than you do about movies, books, television, poetry, music, world history, politics, language, philosophy, science fiction, soccer, rugby, beer and coffee, and he is eager to entertain you with anecdotes about each of them.

Though he occasionally berates me for praising movies that are less than masterpieces (guilty--this guy's a tough critic), he's also quick to respond to questions on his blog and happy to engage on just about any subject. Do yourself a favor: buy his books and tell your friends, and if we're all lucky, he'll keep writing them.