New York City: a man hangs upside-down outside a skyscraper. He is being punished by three vigilantes and he is just the first.
So goes the start of Darragh McManus’ debut novel Even Flow. So far, so crime novel-conventional, but if that’s a bit middle of the road for you, the Emly-born writer wastes little time steering his readers into the ditch.
Even Flow’s ‘3W Gang’ are not your average vigilantes; rather they believe society needs “balance-enforced karma through selective, brutal punishment of misogynists and homophobes”.
Wilde, Waters and Whitman are inspired by revolutionaries and feminists, art and irony. They are “the grunge vibe made flesh and made angry: cool, witty, sexy ... and dangerous”.
Hunting them meanwhile is a gay detective, determined to see justice done but getting more morally ambivalent as he’s drawn into their world.
This departure from thriller shorthand has two contrasting inspirations, Darragh told the Leader this week from his home in Crusheen, Co. Clare.
One being his own sense of natural justice, the other a German terrorist group.
“I got an idea about a gang of vigilantes who were inspired not by the usual ideas of fighting crime or some personal vendetta, but on a point of principle. The way the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany in the 1970s were inspired by Marxist principles. My guys’ principles were feminism and gay rights and the whole ‘new man’ thing,” he says before wondering aloud if anyone uses that term anymore.
“The 3W Gang are on a campaign to point out that ‘we’re normal and all the homophobes and sexists are screwed up’. They’re not normal obviously as they’re very extreme in how they think and they go out and use brutal violence to make their points.
“Most people maybe don’t get exercised by homophobia or sexism, but they wouldn’t be homophobic or sexist themselves and I strongly believe all men would be happier in a world that was fair to women and gay people.”
A regular contributor to the Irish Independent and Sunday Times, Darragh has written a humorous book on our national games ‘GAA Confidential’ and has a comic e-book ‘Cold Steel Justice’ under his own belt, but under a different name.
Ideas for novels, plays, movie scripts and short stories continue to percolate, even if his bigger literary ambitions have yet to be realised. A novel and collection of short stories - “the best thing I’ve ever written” - elicited encouraging noises from publishers, but no book deals. Crime fiction, however, which sells like ice cream in a heatwave, has offered him a route to publication. But it’s no mere means to an end, he says.
“I always would have read crime novels as well as literature, so it’s not totally cynical bandwagon-jumping.
“I always read James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard and people like that and enjoyed them, but I never had any intention of writing crime fiction. In my mid 20s when I decided I was going to start writing I had in my head that I was going to write the Pulitzer prize-winning novel.
“When I started writing Even Flow about 10 years ago, I was still thinking I am going to make my bones as a literary writer, so it wasn’t a cynical move.
“I think this is a well written book and it’s a good story. With a lot of crime fiction people say, ‘oh you just want a good story’ - well, you do, but you want a well-written book too. I wouldn’t read those Steig Larsson books (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo etc...) because I don’t think they’re particularly well written,” he adds.
His next book ‘The Polka Dot girl’, a thriller with all female characters is out on January 25. Even Flow itself can be bought online on Amazon, Book Depository etc, though whether it will be in your local bookshop depends on them.
He might have to wait until his crime writing career takes off for that privilege. Fame and fortune following that would be welcome too?
“Yeah, of course. I read about a guy called David Baldacci, who writes thrillers, whose name was vaguely familiar to me and he has sold hundreds of millions of books! Does he exist? Is he a computer programme? Who knows?
“Fame, no. But deep down I think anyone who writes or creates something wants recognition. It’s not just money, ‘here’s a million quid, go buy a nice car’, you want the world to say ‘we love you and you’re brilliant’.
“As for selling it online, it’s nice that the book will always be on sale and you’re not at the whim of a physical book shop.
“I know that sounds awful, because book shops are great, but they aren’t great for writers, or publishers. They’re great for readers and I love going into them, but Amazon is better for me.”
Until such time as you’re famous and pushing Baldacci off the shelves in airport book shops?
“Yeah, then I’ll be like, ‘Move it ya bum!’”
Even Flow can be ordered on Amazon