Tuesday 12 July 2022

An Honest Life by J. F. Conroy (2022)

An Honest Life : A Gritty Irish Family Drama Based On The Backdrop Of A Criminal Element

Dublin city has taken care of itself for years, governed by two criminal gangs who intertwine in each route without the need to be involved in each other's company, until now. 
A story of two families who are at opposite sides of the spectrum in their quality of life. The criminal element connects them within the city they live in. The only difference between them is that one man controls everything and everyone around him and the other man's life is governed by the poor choices he makes affecting everyone around him. 
Declan Hennessey was an adopted child who grew up in the back streets of Dublin. His mother, Geraldine, raised him on her own after his father died unexpectedly. He is a tough, ruthless villain and an intimidating character. A younger woman, Kathleen, saw passed his exterior persona and the pair soon bonded. Within a year they married and went on to have one son, Kieran. Rising through the ranks, Declan eventually took control running the north side of Dublin's crime scene owning a pub and a hardware store. A new upcoming smarter pair of brothers (the Finnertys) aim to intimidate and take control of his long acquired assets and schemes as Declan struggles to maintain power over his territory. A rival gang (the O'Driscolls) in the south of the city have acquired the brother's services and naively gave them too much control too soon before they are caught duping the head of the outfit. 
Martin Lynch is a casual criminal of sorts who gets caught up in danger because of his excesses. He struggles to keep his head above water with bad life choices leading to debts, lack of work and money. His charm has only got him so far in life as his drinking and gambling have only added to the strain on his family's day to day life. His wife Bridget juggles to keep the fabric of the family together as long shift patterns drain her emotionally. They are coping with the factor that their teenage daughter, Sinead, is overcoming pivotal stages of cancer. 
Their son, Shane, grew up with Kieran and the pair get caught up in the struggle between their fathers. Kathleen and Bridget are the best of friends, and their strong bond plays out throughout the story. Declan and Martin despise each other and share common traits that unknowingly connect them throughout the story. Underneath all their conflicts, they will both do anything to protect their families. Their journey takes a torrid turn which sees the fabric of their family structure torn apart in different scenarios. The story delves into the powerful emotions of the main characters, no matter how strong each individual thinks they are. It brings home the importance that at the heart of everyone's underlying happiness, it is family. Significant themes of loyalty, love, strength and friendship prevail in the characters. These traits take them down a path to their lowest point of reckoning until they break and redeem themselves, showing their true potential in a person they never thought they could be.

An Honest Life is essentially a family drama set within the criminal world of Dublin. The scene setting and character development were brilliantly done. From the descriptions in the opening pages, it was apparent that the author had done extensive research. Dublin is clearly recognisable and the turn of phrase and expressions used by the characters were unmistakably and authentically Irish.
I was surprised at the amount of humour in this book. I was expecting it to be darker as it's billed as a gritty crime drama but I found myself more often than not laughing at the antics of Martin and the funny quips he comes out with. Some of his funniest moments were in his interactions with his daughter, Sinéad.
It's difficult not to like Martin even though you'd like to shake a little bit of sense into him. It took me a bit longer to warm up to Declan but he proved his worth in the end and in a way I didn't see coming.
The crime element came more to the fore in the last quarter of the book and it heightened the sense of tension and suspense making the book impossible to put down.
Despite tragedy, violence and jealousy An Honest Life had me laughing, crying and laughing some more as the story concluded in a very uplifting and heartwarming way.

My only concern about this book, at first sight, was the convoluted blurb. I prefer a short succinct outline of the main premise and I felt that this one was too long with too much information.

An Honest Life is out now.

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