After 12 years abroad, Michael Forsythe emerges from the Witness Protection Program to return to his old stomping grounds in Belfast. In short, Bridget Callahan, a vicious mobster who has been trying to kill Michael (he murdered her husband and ratted out their gang) in the intervening period, has called him back to find her kidnapped daughter. But in addition to being arch nemeses, Michael and Bridget also used to be lovers (before he killed her husband). Now, desperate to find her 12-year-old daughter, she offers to wipe the slate clean if he can save the child. If you haven’t done the math already, I won’t spoil it for you.
Basically, Michael’s crime-solving adventures involve him going from mobster to mobster, holding a gun or knife to him, and extracting a name. He then goes to that person and does the same thing. There’s no cleverness involved, just threats and brute force as Forsythe goes through the chain of command (sometimes making strange logical leaps, other times not making obvious connections as quickly as he should). We are constantly reminded of how skilled and “unkillable” Forsythe is, although this is all hearsay from other characters talking about his reputation. Michael’s actual performance in the story is clumsy and quite meatheadish. Often, he is saved from his own recklessness by mere chance: a well-timed car accident or the incredible incompetence of his adversaries. The novel chronicles his adventures through chapters entitled “Circe,” ‘The Wandering Rocks,” and so forth for no compelling reason I can see, other than trying to lend literary credibility to a cast of hardboiled caricatures, an impoverished storyline, and even more impoverished writing. Bridget, the most beautiful woman Forsythe has ever seen, is described as having skin like pages from the New Testament. Which makes me think that she’s either 80 years old or needs to see a dermatologist. When the language isn’t baffling, it’s melodramatic, redundant, inaccurate (“Somewhere it’s always midnight”), or attempting to point to its own brilliance (Forsythe is constantly admiring Bridget’s complexity as a frantic mother and ruthless criminal).
Through its chapter titles and coy parallels, “The Bloomsday Dead” likens itself to “The Odyssey.” But through its Irish setting, the 24-hour timetable, and title, it also links itself to “Ulysses,” which famously and brilliantly recasts Homer’s epic into modern life. You’d think because the action takes place on Bloomsday (the June 16 holiday that brings people from around the world to celebrate Joyce’s masterpiece) and because the title has the word “Bloomsday” in it, that this would mean something for the novel. But it doesn’t. Bloomsday is celebrated in Dublin, while the majority of the action takes place in Belfast. McKinty could have set the story on Christmas Day and it would have made no difference. So why the title? I can only assume that it’s another attempt to substitute Joyce’s skill for his own. When even the title uses an irrelevant, literary crutch, you know there’s a problem. I hate to think that our imaginations are so exhausted that any story of a character’s homecoming after a long absence has to be an Odyssey. And when the story’s only interest lies in mapping plot points against a classic to find surface parallels, you have to lament the lack of imagination in crafting the life of a rogue mobster.