Tangled Web UK Review August 1998
File Updated: 31/03/00
Sad Bastard Sad Bastard by Hugo Hamilton
pbk out May 99 (Vintage) at 5.99
Pat Coyne, an officer in the Irish Gardai, is a sad bastard. Hes on leave and in therapy after involvement in a traumatic fire. A police informer who has volunteered news of an illegal immigration racket is later found dead. And local thug Mongi O Doherty, the absence of an apostrophe sinister in itself, stalks the streets of Dublin. Crime fiction fans, encouraged by the publishers unironic adoption (on the cover of the new paperback of Headbanger, Hamiltons previous Coyne novel), of Coynes own ironic description of himself as Dublin's Dirty Harry, may already be on their way to the bookshops.
But hold on. Coyne is sitting in a bar with three symbolic gin and tonics in front of him; he has no real interest in crime any more he was looking for broader solutions. Mongi has a smile that is a combination of benign BeeGees...and a savage horsebite of yellow neglect and he laughs the great capitalist laugh of eternal growth and incessant innovation.
The scene is most certainly set. But for what? Not for a tension-tight, cracking-pace crime novel, thats for sure. In Headbanger Hamilton pulled off a difficult mix of mayhem and metaphysics. Here though the metaphysics, leavened of course with Coynes melancholy humour, have gained the upper hand. Those three gins are for Carmel, Coynes estranged wife. He resents his psycho-analyst and hates the idea that there might be a recognisable syndrome or description for his state of mind. Most of all, Coyne has developed into some kind of Promethean figure struggling to protect the Ireland he loves from the corrupting influences of the consumer-led society. Show him a shimmy in a pub and he is apt to wonder about the absence of the subtle introspection of Irish culture...
There is, in short, much to enjoy artful writing, alternately whimsical and hard-edged, an idiosyncratic cast. Note for instance the virtuoso twenty page passage in which, one after the other, lunch is taken in seventeen separate locations! Its all great stuff. Just dont worry about the plot.


( Bob Cornwell )

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