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Rethinking St. Patrick's Day: In literature, Alan Glynn is an Irish writer worth toasting

Posted 9:52am on Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012

When you think of the great Irish writers, you probably think of novelists like James Joyce, playwrights like Samuel Beckett, and poets like W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney -- masters of musical language and inquirers into the darkest recesses of the human soul. But even on the most postmodern of St. Patrick's Days, chances are you're not going to dust off that copy of Ulysses that has been resting on your bookshelf since freshman year of college.

In which case, consider acquainting yourself with the work of Alan Glynn, an Irish thriller writer whose breakneck books take about as much time to race through as your average pint of Guinness. Glynn, a former schoolteacher, first gained attention for The Dark Fields, published in the United States in 2002 and adapted into a movie last year, under the title Limitless.

That novel has a terrific premise -- a man stumbles upon a synthetic drug that allows him to use a huge capacity of his brain power -- even if Glynn ultimately runs out of steam. His two successive works, however, reveal a thriller writer fully coming into his own. First came Winterland, published in 2010 and set in a dark and dense world of politicians, schemers and real estate developers in boom-time Dublin. Even better is the just-released Bloodland (Picador, $16 in paperback), which uses many of the same characters from the previous novel but stands entirely on its own.

What makes Glynn's works so much fun to read is that they introduce us to a world that hasn't gotten much play in contemporary books and movies -- a modern, professional-class Ireland that remains a few paces behind the rest of the first-world economy -- and he sends his characters spinning through vast, almost giddily complicated conspiracies. Even when the melodrama turns wildly implausible, you can't stop flipping the pages.

A writer this entertaining doesn't remain under the radar long. Jump on the bandwagon now, because pretty soon it's going to get very crowded.

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