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RESURRECTION MAN (edition 1996)

by Eoin McNamee

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1143150,455 (3.03)8
Authors:Eoin McNamee
Info:Picador (1996), Paperback
Collections:Your library

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Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee



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Belfast in the early seventies. What a scary place. Violence is everywhere, bombings, secteristic murders and punishment of traitors (like the guy with a catholic fishing buddy) happens daily. And the city McNamee paints in a vivid grey is a place where the violence is even so normal it has pushed everything else out of people’s minds. It’s routine. In the pubs the discussions are all about ballistics and calibers. About who’s in jail and for how long. Or if there’s any truth to the statement that there’s still a higher risk of dying in traffic than from terrorism. Local knowledge is everything. A person who doesn’t know to which side each single street belongs is in grave danger. Palestine Street. Chlorine Park. Tomb Street.

And in this city walks Victor and his small gang of butchers. Where everybody else uses bombs or clinical gunshots, they torture their victims with hundreds of slow stab wounds. Victor is a cold-blooded psychopath, a serial killer among terrorists. He’s not only scaring the Catholics he hates, but the people on his own side too – the loyalist terrorists. Slowly, he is becoming a liability to the cause.

McNamee paints a bleak and scary portrait of a man and a time and place. We get to sense what might be Victor’s true subconscious motives between the lines, but mostly this is told as a straight and simple story. Perhaps just a little too straight. This is not a sophisticated book, but the ambience of it is masterfully created. It’s almost hard to believe it tells of a European reality from not that long ago. ( )
2 vote GingerbreadMan | Oct 23, 2011 |
This is McNamee’s first novel and one can see why it made his name as a writer to watch. The novel is set in Belfast which is described as “cold, functional, ghostly”---an apt description of the tone of the novel itself, but potential readers should not be deterred because the writing is wonderful.

Victor Kelly is a Protestant (though with the possible taint of that Catholic name, Kelly, the most grievous insult anyone could throw in his face) who grows up hard to become head of a small gang of killers known as the Resurrection Men who specialize in slitting the throats of Catholics picked up on the streets; not entirely at random as each kidnapping is well planned, but random in that the only real criterion is that the target be Catholic. That, however, is the end of the randomness as the subsequent torture, mutilation, murder and staging of the corpse are meticulously planned for maximum pain and maximum impact. The novel also follows the parallel lives of Ryan, in particular, and Coppinger, two journalists who write about the knife-murders and whose lives cut across those of Kelly and his men.

The novel feels like an abstract painting that is all straight lines, triangles and oblongs of various sizes, colours and shapes that overlap and intersect, a painting of sharp corners and boundaries that everywhere define life and death. Belfast itself is like a character in the novel as we see its economic growth and decline, its increasing despair and dismemberment into sectional retreats. The boundaries of the streets t fix denominational enclaves that determine life and death if, for instance, you were to find yourself accidentally where you should not be. And life lines define one’s existence, in an unbreakable, iron cage: “It was a question of assembling an identity out of names: the name of school attended, the name of the street where you lived, your own name. These were the finally tuned instruments of survival."

The trajectories of the lives of Kelly and his men are straight lines to death or imprisonment with overlapping shapes of allegiances and betrayals. They style themselves as protectors of Protestants against the depredations of Catholics, and for this they are respected, and a little feared, in their community, but without the religious cloak, Kelly and his men would be ordinary thieves, pimps, racketeers, and murderers; these are not innocents led astray. I have to think hard to recall any truly positive human relationships in the novel: Kelly is estranged from his father and even fantasizes slitting his throat when he one day shaves him after his father has had a stroke; Ryan becomes a heavy drinker, is estranged from his father and divorced; Coppinger is a loner who drinks and smokes himself into an early grave; Heather, Victor’s girlfriend is buffeted by forces and events of life from which she cannot break free. And yet there is this fetish of motherhood: one killer has to leave the scene of a murder early because he promised to take his mother to the shops, but none of them has a real, human relationship with his mother. In fact, they are all arrested, infantile development, sociopaths. Only the violence gives them focus and motivation.

Lest all of this sound too depressing to read, let me assure that it is not. The story is bleak, but the telling is clear and the writing is very good. McNamee writes in a very simple, declarative style but his writing is characterized by two powerful currents. One is his insights into what I would call the psychologies of persons, of motivations, of relationships, of social and personal expectations, of roles to be played. This even extends to the psychology of places:

“It was the first time Heather had been inside a courthouse. It was not what she expected. McClure told her that this was part of the mystery of courthouses. They are not what you expect. You look for authority in a courthouse, the exercise of prerogative. This is where the small acts of human deceit and betrayal are given latitude, where they should be played out in terms of motive, consequences. The dark benches, the archaic procedure designed to give you the drama you feel you are owed from your life, the feeling that you are acting on behalf of something great and shadowy. “

The other current is the writing in the use of inventive, insightful and often surprising similes and metaphors.

“Victor would look at him then but he would have put the shout away like it was something he’d sneaked on to the terraces under his coat and was afraid to use again.”

“They would come in and sit on the edge of the sofa. Big Ivan looked miserable and contrite. His eyes kept travelling to his big hands as if they were something uncouth which had followed him in.”

“And it was the women who lay awake at night listening to sand hissing in the caravan chassis and to children making sounds in their sleep to complement that sound, so that they felt a parent’s faint dread at their children’s access to the windlblown and strange.”

“He realized that a name was accomplished and haunting, and that having read them he could not divest himself of them but they would come to him again like an old pain coming intact through the innuendo of years.”

A writer well worth reading.
  John | Dec 27, 2008 |
Set in Belfast at the beginning of the troubles this book has two main characters the most central one is a Victor Kelly, a protestant who is suspect to other protestants because of his catholic last name. Kelly is a sadist and fond of gangster movies. He is also very sensitive to the insult of being inferred a catholic. As he comes of age he becomes the leader of a protestant terror gang who kidnap, torture and kill their victims--to wit my dating of it to the early part of the troubles as the story seems to concur with events that occured in those times--such as most evidently the Romper room murders, a series of very brutal killings abetted by members of British intelligence who also brought to the conflict, media manipulation and a variety of forms of thought control--including via drugs and sexual slavery. In any case they are side by side with our Victor here at least for most of the book. As these horrific murders take place 2 journalists--one a catholic, Ryan (distracted and hurt by his wife having left him) and the other Coppinger, a protestant (sick and dying of cancer) begin tracking Victor and his gang. Eventually Victor's keepers will wash their hands of him and Victor will then find himself in the unfamiliar role of a victim. This is a very suspenseful and violent novel about a dark period in Irish history. McNamee has a keen ear and eye for the unusual word or phrase that will give his lines extra emphasis. The understated tone in fact often might seem to slow the pace a bit and I found myself surprised the first time I read it how actually quickly it moved along. This writer has talent and this book is an excellent place to start if one wants to find out more about it. ( )
  lriley | Sep 6, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031213598X, Hardcover)

Recounts the experiences of Victor Kelly, a disturbed killer in shadowy Belfast, who believes that he has captured the artistic nature and transfiguring beauty of human violence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:58 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In Belfast, the story of a killer, a psychopath who kidnaps Catholics in the streets to carve them up with his knife. For a while he and his gang serve the purpose of higher interests, then he becomes a liability and the time comes to get rid of him. A first novel.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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