I read this in response to an invitation by Michael J Malone to vote for the book in the Irish Book Awards. Always happy to oblige a friend, I still thought it a good idea to actually read the book before I voted for it although I do have a pile of other stuff to read and review. But I’m glad I put it to the top of my pile because it was a great read.
Every now and then though you come across something that defies all categories. Without doubt this is true for Absolute Zero Cool. To try to even summarise the plot is almost superfluous as the narrative seems to have a life of its own, pulling the reader along with the story. Crime writer Declan Burke is working on a new book when hospital porter Billy Karlsson, a character in a previous unpublished novel appears to him on a writer’s retreat. Billy is angry at being left marooned in a shelved manuscript and urges the writer to finish the book. However, the writer is enjoying fatherhood and literary success and is no longer the angry young man who created the disturbed Billy who euthanises dying patients. Billy offers to help the writer finish his book to achieve his plan to blow up the hospital where he works.
It’s a great book because it is rooted in the tradition of crime fiction. It casts a sardonic eye over some of the clichés of the genre while reflecting on fatherhood, the health system and Irish society . It’s also very funny. There’s a passage where Billy, pretending to be eleven year old Jennifer arranges to meet schoolgirl Yasmin, who naturally is also a grown man. All part of the deviousness of Billy in the lead-up to the cataclysmic explosion. It’s also one of the most up to date books I’ve read with references from Justin Bieber to the Irish banking crisis. It’s not to everyone’s taste I suspect but it seems to be garnering universally positive reviews which goes to show that good writing is always appreciated. I read it on my kindle which added to the slightly surreal reading experience.
For those of you who fancy reading the book I see Declan Burke is give away a signed copy on his blog Crime Always Pays. Those who have read the book can vote for is here. There are more positive reviews by Rob at The View from the Blue House and at Mean Streets.