Undercover Gerard Brennan
A Cormac Kelly Thriller
This is crime fiction as an adrenaline injection to the heart. Gerard Brennan is a no nonsense writer, not one wasted words, no added fluff. Undercover is hard and fast – an exhilarating read. It’s got plenty of gritty action and the Belfast setting is pitch perfect. This is the post Troubles world, well into the peace process but nothing in Northern Ireland is free from its history, from its scars. Brennan draws believable characters and Cormac Kelly is a decent creation. Brennan knows how to tell a simple story with style, this tale is boiling over with subversive twists, humour, irony and social commentary. When a kidnapping goes wrong mayhem breaks out:
Kelly is pissed off with the ski mask they gave him, he got the one with no mouth hole, it’s irritating as hell. His pistol, a Ruger Six, hasn’t even been cleaned and they left him with the two hostages – this his first job with these guys, the new boy always has to prove himself. The father, John, is slumped on a mattress, he looks crestfallen, the son, Mattie, is a different kettle of fish, he looks at his father with contempt and disappointment. The attitude is there even though Big Frank, a ‘Silverback on steroids’, slapped the kid to scare him. That was also a little threat for the video, so his mother gets the point – focuses. Cormac comes recommended but he’s really an undercover cop. He tricks paddy into giving him the phone so he can send a copy of the video to his handler.
Lydia Gallagher opened the cottage door to a shotgun in the face. The thugs slap her around a bit before showing her the footage of her husband and son. They have a job for her, do it right and the boys will be released. Lydia is an agent, her client Rory Cullen just signed for Man City, a club with deep pockets, on the way up. The general consensus is that Rory is worth every penny of the transfer fee; ‘the new George Best’. Next morning Lydia will collect Rory from the airport for a book tour of Northern Ireland, the gang have other plans.
‘Rory’s Smirk stretched into his signature toothy grin. He’d a mouthful of Belfast teeth. . . For all his careful metrosexual preening, tailored suits and fifty quid haircuts, the teeth were a welcome reminder of Rory’s working class background.’
The boss, Ambrose O’Neill, wants a word with Cormac, he’s glad to finally get a break from guard duty, a chance for something to eat. Fat Paddy gets to watch the hostages. O’Neill doesn’t like Cormac, the new guy has a little too much attitude about him, thinks he’s superior. O’Neill and Cormac are in the middle of feeling each other out when all hell breaks loose upstairs. Cormac and O’Neill dash upstairs, in the hostage room John’s nose has been broken and Paddy is kicking the bejesus out of young Mattie. Cormac can’t help himself he whacks Paddy’s skull with his pistol. That’s when O’Neill hits him, everything goes dark. There’s a price to pay for this kind of insubordination.
Readers will think they know where this is going, and sure Cormac and the gang are about to fall out, but things don’t go down by the numbers. Anyway, while Lydia contemplates screwing over her client Rory, Cormac is on he run with a thirteen year old boy and a wounded man. He’s a cop gone rogue with few friends and plenty of enemies out there.
This is a gritty read but there are still light moments. Rory Cullen’s autobiography is quoted at the opening of every chapter, that book and his character are a nice send up of the football world and our modern obsession with the game. Feck sake, why does anyone under fifty need an autobiography anyway? So you can have lines like this:
“On the pitch, I’m sublime. Beyond human. I’ll give you your fairy tale ending.”
Of course, there’s no fairy tale ending to Undercover, there is a nicely judged denouement, that really satisfies and sits well with the story.
Gerard Brennan, ‘as Irish as feck’, has written a handful of novels and co-edited a collection of Irish stories Requiem for the Departed, he also writes short stories and contributed to Belfast Noir. His latest novel Disorder was published by No Alibis Press in 2018.
Undercover, Blasted Heath, 2014, paperback, ISBN 9781500295127.