Good morning Bookworms!
Today I am joined by Larkin Cunningham, author of The Murk Beneath, who is going to introduce us to two of the characters from his book. So, while I’ll get the kettle on, I’ll hand you over to Larkin . . .
I want to talk about two pivotal characters in my debut novel, The Murk Beneath. The first is Mickey Bosco, a disgraced ex-Garda detective. He begins the novel working as a security guard. He is lonely and in poor health and things only get worse for him – though there is a redemption of sorts by the end, albeit an ambiguous one.
The second is Jim ‘The Gentleman’ Jordan, a supposedly-retired and gone-legit ex-crime lord. For years he has run rings around the various state agencies tasked with stopping crime and recovering the ill-gotten gains of organised crime.
When did you create them?
I created Mickey Bosco back in late 2009 when I was doing a masters in creative writing in Edinburgh. He just emerged from a random writing exercise (I had to submit a portfolio of writing to my tutor at the time, the Scottish novelist and poet Robert Alan Jamieson) and began as an unnamed character of no particular occupation, but I had situated him in a very lonely, desperate scene. I worked my way backwards from there and asked myself why he was in that pitiful state. Robert picked out the character as the most interesting in my portfolio and I decided to continue with him over the next few years, on and off.
I wanted a complex character that had psychological issues to deal with – PTSD, anger, hypochondria. Few people are not touched by psychological issues of one degree or another at some point in their lives, and police and criminals have to deal with trauma on a regular basis. How they deal with the aftereffects of trauma interests me as a writer – how these manifest themselves internally and externally. Mickey frequently finds himself strangling things, lost in the moment, whether it is someone’s neck or a steering wheel.
Jim Jordan came a couple of weeks later when I had to continue writing for the end of semester submission. Because Mickey had lost his father at a young age, I wanted a father figure of sorts, someone that might appeal to Mickey to go over to the dark side (again, this is ambiguous in the novel – shades of grey and all that). Not as extreme as the Luke Skywalker / Darth Vader dynamic (which, of course, had a genetic element!), but there is nonetheless something symbiotic in their uncomfortable relationship.
I gave Jim the nickname ‘The Gentleman’ for a couple of reasons. First is Ireland’s libel laws which meant that gang bosses could not be named in newspapers. We’ve had criminals like ‘The Monk’, ‘The General’, and so on. I decided that ‘The Gentleman’ would be a nickname from Jim’s amateur boxing days – I liked the idea that he could be violent, yet be called a gentleman. I never explain why he earned that nickname – perhaps it was an ironic nickname for someone who was anything but a gentleman in the ring.
Did you write the book to accommodate the characters or the characters to accommodate the book?
The character is always first. I’m always inclined to favour character development over plot initially, though I’m always working to marry the two. Maybe that slows down the first draft as I try to get the pieces in place before letting rip. I know my favourite books are the ones where I am invested in the character, even if the plot isn’t highly paced or particularly intricate.
What do you like most about Mickey and Jim?
I wanted an anti-hero in my novel. I’m drawn to those characters in literature, film and TV. I loved the descent of Walter White in Breaking Bad, for instance, though that character was ultimately irredeemable. While Mickey does descend into vigilantism to some degree, he is never comfortable with it. My favourite line from the novel is: “I was thrilled and appalled in equal measure.”; it’s written at the moment Mickey finally crosses that line and the juxtaposition of the horror and the exhilaration he feels is something that gives me great satisfaction as a writer. It was a revealing moment for the character where he had to be put into that unique situation to learn about his true nature.
I wanted to nod to some of the conventions or clichés of the hard-boiled genre. We’ve all seen the grizzled detectives or PIs with alcoholism and listening to jazz. Mickey starts with a drink problem, but pretty quickly ditches it. He listens to chill-out music instead of jazz. But his real vice isn’t cocaine, hookers or gambling, it’s Clonakilty black pudding – it’s a running joke throughout the novel and I love that something so identifiable to Cork could be used as a humorous device and a quirky little neurosis in the character.
With Jim Jordan, I like his ambiguity. He’s done unspeakable acts in the past, many at arm’s length, many directly. The question of how retired he is in left open until very late in the novel. I also like his devotion to his daughter and his attempts at shielding her from the murky side of his “business” empire.
What do you like least about them?
Mickey is a bit of a traditionalist. He thinks it’s a man’s place to make the first move in a relationship, that the best family unit involves a woman looking after the kids. The results in some humorously bumbling conversations with the Gentleman’s daughter, Grace, with whom a relationship blossoms (she is very much the driving force). His attitude to Travellers (the ethnic minority group) is a big dodgy too. I don’t think a writer should shy away from uncomfortable traits in a main protagonist if it feels right for the character. The book is written in first-person perspective, so I am always left wondering if a reader will read the character’s attitudes as being the same as the writer’s – I hope not.
I find Jim Jordan’s admiration of well-executed thuggery a bit disturbing. For example, his wistful admiration for how a meth dealer built his distribution network.
Do they have any similarities with anyone real? Who? What? Why?
There’s no escaping the fact that certain traits of the author inevitably find their way into the book. Certain traits, like Mickey’s hypochondria, are adapted from some of my own anxieties. Mickey’s cynicism is definitely my cynicism.
Jim Jordan isn’t really based on any one particular person, though there are inspirations from certain Irish crime figures like Martin ‘The General’ Cahill and John Gilligan. He is perhaps a little too pantomimish to be real, but the audacity of some of these crime lords can be breath taking, so I have a feeling I’m not too wide of the mark.
What are your plans for them?
I am currently writing a novella featuring Mickey Bosco. It is a prequel where we learn about his formation as a rookie Garda detective. It will reveal more about the issue of abuse by the Catholic church that is only hinted at in The Murk Beneath.
Jim Jordan will return in a future full novel along with Mickey, one that is set immediately after the events of The Murk Beneath. I imagine both Mickey and Jim will feature in several more novels over the next few years, though my immediate plans are to begin a new post-apocalyptic series in the vein of Stephen King’s The Stand, which I loved when I read it years ago. But Mickey is so much a part of my life now that I must continue his journey in the future.
Would you be friends in real life?
I can imagine sharing a pint with Mickey. Like me, his preference is for craft beer, so perhaps a Howling Gale Ale. I think I would enjoy a chat more with the Mickey of the end of the novel than the beginning.
I would pretend to be friends with Jim – I wouldn’t want to be his enemy!
Well these two certainly sound intriguing!
Thank you so much for joining me and introducing them to us Larkin, I’ll certainly be looking out for the books.
You can get your copy of The Murk Beneath over at Amazon UK and here’s the blurb . . .
A gripping crime novel with plenty of dark comedy.
Featuring The Batman of Cork, The Bruce Lee of Cork, The Mangler himself – Mickey Bosco, the disgraced Irish detective who literally takes the law into his own hands.
When DI Michael Bosco strangles a suspected child killer into a coma, he is expelled from the Gardaí. Now lacking a purpose in life, Bosco gets a job offer he can’t refuse from a supposedly retired gang boss with megalomaniacal tendencies. It’s not long before Bosco becomes the main suspect in a series of vigilante murders and survives an attempted hit. Under siege and emboldened, Bosco has some morally ambiguous choices to make, like whether to play by the rules or take the law into his own hands.
Prepare to meet some unsavoury (and often comical) characters from the streets of Cork – a fixer who chops off a finger if you welsh on a debt; a corrupt Garda officer; a mercenary who wields a machete like it was just a toothpick; a bagman who is quick to collect debt, but slow to put his hand in his own pocket.