What do you get when you cross a hard-boiled PI novel with the Troubles in Northern Ireland? THE GUNS OF HEAVEN by Pete Hamill, that’s what.
So is it any good?
Read on to find out…
Jaded reporter, Sam Briscoe, stars in THE GUNS OF HEAVEN, the third entry in Pete Hamill’s four book hard-boiled crime series yet the first to get the Hard Case Crime makeover. It’s a curious tale sending our man Sam onto the troubled streets of West Belfast before catapulting him into a tangled web of conspiracy and assassination in his native New York. Hamill wrote the book during the hey day of The Troubles when this reviewer was but a lad. And here’s a thing: while Hamill is American, his vision of 80s Northern Ireland isn’t too far away from how I remember things back then.
Basic premise has Irish American Sam visiting his Uncle Frank, an ageing Republican living in Belfast. Frank needs Sam to deliver a message to his contacts in NYC, and, while Sam appears hesitant at first, a shakedown with the local feds and brutal murder have his mind made up for him. Fast forward a few days and Sam’s back in New York visiting a bar called McDaids to hand over an unopened envelope. More chaos ensues and poor ol’ Sam finds himself wrapped up in an international crime caper that puts not only his own life in danger, but the lives of those nearest and dearest to him.
I loved this book. Hamill’s writing is beautiful and emotive while still retaining that leanness that the genre is known for. His characters are a mixed bunch: those we meet in Belfast are credible while their American counterparts come straight out of Noir 101; retired mobsters and ex-hookers and maverick cops. The story moves along at a good pace with Briscoe thrown into danger at every turn. And it works. All of it works. In fact, it’s effortless.
In THE GUNS OF HEAVEN, Hamill has given us something truly original: a curious blend of pseudo-historical Northern Irish drama and hard-boiled American PI antics. And it’s pretty damn awesome.