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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faustian, allegorical and satirical tale of the boom and bust in Ireland
The Devil I Know is a Faustian, allegorical and satirical tale of the boom and bust in Ireland told through the eyes of Tristram St Lawrence and his tragic foray into property development in the dying days of the Celtic Tiger. Setting the book in the two weeks leading up to the centenary of the 1916 uprising, the catalyst for independence, and using the narrative form of...
Published 18 months ago by Rob Kitchin

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrendous hodgepodge of unresolved themes
I found this book horrendous. It's main subject matter, the greed and lack of oversight that led to the Irish property market and banking collapse, is good for selling books but the way the author mixes an enormous range of themes and complex issues is extremely weak, particularly because she deals with none of them conclusively:
-Behaviour of developers during...
Published 5 months ago by Emmet Stokes


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faustian, allegorical and satirical tale of the boom and bust in Ireland, 14 Jan 2013
By 
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
The Devil I Know is a Faustian, allegorical and satirical tale of the boom and bust in Ireland told through the eyes of Tristram St Lawrence and his tragic foray into property development in the dying days of the Celtic Tiger. Setting the book in the two weeks leading up to the centenary of the 1916 uprising, the catalyst for independence, and using the narrative form of a testimony at an inquiry were inspired choices, setting the excesses of the Celtic Tiger and the loss economic sovereignty against the quest for self-determination, and framing the tale so it speaks directly to the reader. Kilroy's prose is light, expressive and witty, and she keeps the story moving at fair clip. The plot captures the characters (the deluded, naive investor; the jack-the-lad builder/property developer; the social climbing wife, the crooked politician; the greedy corporate financiers; and the faceless European backers), scams, sentiments, rhetoric, politics and naivety of the boom and the disbelief and unworldliness of the crash. The only bits that seemed to jar a little were the ending, where the story switches to a slightly different, more fantastical register, the lack of any ordinary folk and their role in the property frenzy beyond one scene where they clamour to put down deposits on shoe-box apartments, and the Anglo-Irish background of Tristram, who is portrayed as something of an innocent and deluded dupe, swept along by the party; the Anglo-Irish gentry are not traditionally played in this victim role, although the inversion is interesting in and of itself. Overall, an entertaining and enjoyable tale of modern Ireland's rise and fall.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "This wasn't a boardroom. This was a betting shop.", 29 Jan 2014
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
In this uniquely Irish combination of satire and morality tale, author Claire Kilroy introduces the young, alcoholic thirteenth Earl of Howth, who is testifying in a 2016 legal case about the "Celtic Tiger" and the Irish real estate "bubble" from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, a case in which he was an active, but naïve, participant. Fueled, in part, by the investments of shadowy foreign moguls, who often provided the seed money for grand schemes in which hundreds of hopeful Irish businessmen contributed additional, usually borrowed, funds, the real estate frenzy featured gigantic construction projects on large swathes of land cleared and stripped for hotels, apartments, housing complexes, and commercial use. Then, in 2008, the "bubble" burst, bringing down the Irish economy, banks, investment companies, and now-bankrupt individuals.

Summoned to court years later, Tristram St. Lawrence gives evidence for ten days between March 10, 2016, and March 24, 2016, his whereabouts a mystery from the time of the real estate crash to the much later trial. Though he was personally involved in several real estate schemes, he was, from the outset, a figurehead whom M. Deauville, a mysterious foreign investor, chose for his noble background and the presumed legitimacy his title would bestow on the projects run by Castle Holdings, a company with offices in the castle owned by Tristram's father. The secretive M. Deauville had first met Tristram when he sponsored him for Alcoholics Anonymous, and he has kept constantly in touch with him. Tristram, who has always regarded him as his "savior," becomes involved in M. Deauville's real estate schemes, though M. Deauville pulls the strings and controls Tristram and his construction manager, Desmond Hickey.

The blend of satire and morality tale allows the reader to recognize how weak, vulnerable, and almost cartoon-like, Tristram is, though most readers will be empathetic as they recognize how he is manipulated throughout. As the frenzy of speculation continues, the lively action also reveals the character and behavior of everyone surrounding Tristram, including Desmond Hickey, who cannot accept that fact that Tristram is a tee-totaler. On one occasion, it is only "divine intervention" in the form of a cellphone call from M. Deauville that keeps Tristram from succumbing to the temptation of "a pint."

As the financial disasters begin, the author overtly ties "the fall" to a kind of competition between good and evil, between a higher power and "that other fella," at least in Tristram's mind. Eventually, he and Desmond Hickey, sent to investigate yet another possible development site, both become convinced that "the end is near." In "the black hole" of the countryside, one dark night, both men feel the Devil breathing down the back of their necks. The novel's conclusion extends the morality tale further, tying up loose ends of plot, including some obvious religious imagery, and tightening the overall thematic development of the novel. Though author Claire Kilroy begins this tale with a quotation about a "Sir Tristram" in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, she ends it, appropriately, with the dark adaptation of a nursery rhyme: "There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile./ He made a crooked deal and he blew a crooked pile..." Entertaining and enlightening.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Surreal- just like 2006, 13 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
Beautifully written with gorgeous prose and expertly constructed sentences. To the outsider some of the characters are too grotesque to be true. But the Irish know better. There are people on trial currently that walked off these pages. There are some that will never go to trial lurking inside too. This is Kilroy's best book. Other less imaginative and more prosaic offerings may sell better but if you want the ultimate in Armageddon endings accept no substitute.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Boom and bust, 19 Oct 2013
By 
Amanda Jenkinson "MandyJ" (Cheltenham) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Kindle Edition)
This darkly funny, intelligent and sometimes surreal novel about the financial excesses of the Irish boom years is a joy to read. The madness that seemed to overtake Ireland at the time of the Celtic Tiger and the subsequent collapse, the depiction of the extremes of greed, foolishness, corruption and fantasy that ensued as the financial system spiralled out of control, is here exuberantly and wittily conveyed by Claire Kilroy. The story is related by Tristram St Lawrence - a most unreliable narrator indeed - who returns to Ireland and joins forces, most unwillingly, with an old acquaintance from primary school, Desmond Hickey, an uncouth property developer. Once an alcoholic, and now guided by a sponsor from AA, the mysterious and somewhat sinister M Deauville who gives advice and instructions to him over the phone, Tristram is caught up in a web of implausible financial transactions that he can neither understand nor fight against.
The framework in which this disturbing tale is told is a public enquiry taking place in 2016 - the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising - in which Tristram is questioned about the crash of 2006 and his involvement in it.
This is a quirky and sometimes Gothic novel with an intriguing mix of the real and unreal, and is a wonderful evocation of the collective insanity that Ireland and so many other countries allowed to obliterate common sense and financial responsibility. A cautionary tale and an extremely entertaining novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars very good, 3 Aug 2013
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
The novel is written in the form of questioning. Someone named Fergus in 2016 questions the novel's protagonist Tristram St Lawrence, who was involved in a real estate boom in Ireland in 2006, and then in the collapse of it.

Tristram at the beginning of his confession tells how he nearly died on a plane to make an emergency landing in Dublin. There at the airport hotel Tristram meets accidentally an old friend Desmond Hickey, real estate developer. Hickey immediately takes Tristram to the bar to drink. But Tristram can not drink. Tristram is a former alcoholic, barely survived after a binge. When Tristram has not arrived at his mother's funeral, everyone thought that he'd died ("It was another Tristram St. Lawrence" - Tristram jokes every time). Tristram is rescued by a mysterious character who instructs Tristram by telephone. A stranger appears as Monsieur Deauville, and from that point, as this man made Tristram to join the "Alcoholics Anonymous" and pulled him out from death, Tristram follows instructions from Deauville.

Tristram and Hickey come to the bar, where Hickey buy them a pint, but after five minutes in there Deauville calls Tristram and says that a taxi is waiting for Tristram, it's time to go. Tristram returnes to the castle, which belonged to his mother, but now to Tristram himself (he, after all, is the thirteenth Earl of Howth on the title). His father is living in the castle and does not even want to talk to his son. In the castle Tristram also finds servant Larney who seems senile and talks in riddles. Hickey makes Tristram a business proposal, and at the direction of Deauville Tristram agrees to it.

This book boasts a delightful blend of the real and the unreal. Start with the fact that the action takes place in the future, in 2016. From the beginning, it is not clear whether the narrator is alive or not, it is unclear to whom he tells his story. At the same time, the real estate boom in Ireland really was, as was the collapse, and accuracy in the details regarding property is respected. «The Devil I Know» is, of course, the picaresque novel. If measure it for the quantity of black humor this novel is like "Master and Margarita" plus "Dead Souls" by Gogol. Characters are still those boobies, but, of course, a purely British boobies. All this is compounded by an unreliable narrator, and here I can clearly see some parallels with Stephen Fry. Tristram is Black Adder (from TV series of the same title), and former alcoholic, and a simpleton, which Ireland has never seen, and the person who has become a puppet of the devil. He is certainly an apocryphal, grotesque, hilarious character, but charming, clever even, just trying not to use his wit.

Page-turner is not always equal a good book, but in this case it is a good page-turner. You should get all the fun right away, and read the book quickly, the plot goes like a storm, though it seems there is not a lot of action here. Claire Kilroy writes clever, brilliantly and boldly. Her writing is multi-colored, but without excess.

The theme of real estate today may not be the most relevant, but the devil is always something out there somewhere.

It's a great novel, call it fantasy, the mainstream, even a modern fairy tale. Very good.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A highly underrated book!, 22 July 2013
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This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
None of the significantly guilty in the recent Irish economic disaster will ever be brought to account. The legal system is a version of 19th century English law, the archaic libel laws prevent any effective investigative journalism and there were so many of the culprits at the top who are still at the top that the truth will never be told. The Irish seem to love corrupt politicians and business persons - still. Several who are known to be corrupt were re-elected to the current Dáil and are still sitting there. Hundreds protested on the streets in favour of characters who caused billions of their fellow countrymen's money to vanish but now claim to have been small fry victims of it all...

All names have been changed to protect the guilty: fictionalised versions of the story are the only ones we can expect to come anywhere near the truth and Claire Kilroy's book has an incredible ring of truth. What you need for the perfect storm of economic disaster: firstly corrupt politicians at the highest level who have the hidden power to 'dis-enable' the planning laws and have any old site 'rezoned' for any old development that the developers happen to think up. Secondly, you need unregulated foreign banks - it was the official policy of the governmental Industrial Development Authority to tempt such bandits into the country with the offer of 'dysapplied' banking regulation. What a term! Thirdly, you need testosterone-driven men running highly dubious Irish banks. Now the financing it set up... And fourthly, you need some little idiot who fancies himself as a developer, knows the right people to bribe and is not to be inhibited by any of the decent things which would slow most of us down. And of course you need customers, 'ordinary' people blinded by greed... All of that came together in the middle of the naughty years in Ireland and one whole future generation, or maybe two, will have to pay for the shattering damage that the guilty collectively caused.

Mind you: not everyone pays. The money didn't all disappear and there were numerous winners too, not least among the class of lawyers, accountants and 'public servants', not to mention politicians. They are of course keeping quiet... Resting on the secure laurels of over-dimensioned retirement benefits, for instance.

This book is the perfect mixture of humour and reality. It will force you to laugh against your will. You will recognise all of the characters Kilroy toys with - and on occasion maybe yourself: did you ever queue, for instance to join in the mad rush to buy over-priced, over-hyped property in some crazy development? Do you now live in a poorly insulated building where the construction faults are becoming visible?

Whenever ordinary humans feel they can play 'God', they are - mostly unwittingly - doing the work of the devil. Claire Kilroy succesfully gives the book a modern Faustian framework. Read it on holiday - or instead of a holiday, if those devils took away your ability to afford one.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Once upon a time in the land of the Sidhe..., 26 Oct 2012
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
Ireland is a land of tradition and folklore. On the one hand, it is the land of the Sidhe, the fairies who wreak evil mischief on people. On the other, it is a nation that strove for independence, and since 1916 has striven for prosperity against all the odds. And in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it really looked as though Ireland had found the magic formula for wealth. Based on very low rates of corporation tax, the Government encouraged huge inward investment, particularly in the IT and pharmaceutical sectors. This investment created income, which was poured into a property boom which appeared to generate instant rewards as investors bought off plan and flipped their properties on completion for instant profit. The more properties you bought, the more profit you made... until the Celtic Tiger lots its roar.

The Devil I Know is a wonderful story of just how the crash happened. The reader is given a spectator's seat for ten days of an Inquiry, coinciding with the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, unpicking events that seem to have brought Ireland to its knees. In the witness box we find Tristram St Lawrence, Earl of Howth, a character borrowed from Finnegan's Wake explaining how he came to return to Ireland, quite by accident, and set up in partnership with a shady builder by the name of Dessie Hickey on some of the most ambitious property speculation in an Ireland on the move.

Tristram, it becomes clear, was just caught up in it by accident. He was only following orders from his personal mentor, M. Deauville. He hadn't wanted to get involved, but doesn't deny that he welcomed the payoffs as he tried to save the family castle from its slow crumble back into Howth Bay. Looking back, he is almost surprised at himself, as though watching someone completely different participating in the deals, bribing ministers, sweet-talking bankers. The developments become ever bigger, from a marina development in Howth (almost Malahide), through to speculation in London, Shanghai, and running up to the creation of whole new suburbs in north County Dublin bogland. The voracious appetite is there to be seen. The poor taste spoils of victory - ranch style bungalows, luxury pick up trucks with cream leather upholstery, perma-tanned Eastern European wives are so accurate.

There was a real belief in Ireland at the time that anything was possible; that Ireland had finally claimed its right, in the words of General Collins, to a place at the table of nations. It was as though there had been some magic catalyst that had unlocked the potential for unlimited wealth and Ireland was going to blaze the trail that others would follow. But it was all built on debt. In The Devil I Know, Tristram becomes increasingly uneasy at the debt fuelled growth whilst Dessie just wants to make hay whilst the sun shines. And the contrast between the two men works well. Tristram is educated, suave, sober. He has sophisticated tastes and exquisite manners. Dessie, however, is uneducated, unsophisticated, drunken and vulgar. But both have been thrown together by unseen forces.

As things unravel, the tone becomes increasingly bacchanalian and surreal. We start to see the revenge of the Sidhe as it becomes clear that man has over-reached his ambitions. We see that residences with no residents are quite worthless; just a rearrangement of stones; just swirls on the surface. Ireland is its history, not its assets.

The style of narration is that of question and response - similar to that used by Joyce in part of Ulysses. This creates a sense of immediacy and direction. The interrogator, Fergus, works as counsel for the Inquiry but also works well as a proxy for the reader. And the juxtaposition of very short questions and mostly expansive answers creates a sense of gameplay between the reader and the narrator in a very effective way. We follow the story as it unfolds in a conventional time sequence, but keep being brought back to the present day (future, actually) and the consequences of what we are seeing. And the occasional use of very short responses adds to the dramatic effect. Tristram seems to strive for accuracy and honesty in his responses; he is at pains not to be hiding things. Yet there is a constant feeling of subtexts and undercurrents. It is tense and atmospheric. Moreover, for a story whose ending we know from our news reports, there is a genuine suspense for how the characters will respond to that ending.

It is also worth commenting on the presentation. The Devil I Know is a beautiful book - a whimsical cover, a nursery rhyme on the back, and laid out in an extravagant style with plenty of white space. It is a joy to hold.

Claire Kilroy is one of the most interesting writers in Ireland right now. This is an accomplished work that operates on many levels; drips with history, style and reference; yet is accessible and immediate. It is also historically important. As the people of Ireland pay the debts for the rest of their lives, this Faustian tale will tell them how it came to pass.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrendous hodgepodge of unresolved themes, 9 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
I found this book horrendous. It's main subject matter, the greed and lack of oversight that led to the Irish property market and banking collapse, is good for selling books but the way the author mixes an enormous range of themes and complex issues is extremely weak, particularly because she deals with none of them conclusively:
-Behaviour of developers during boom.
-Behaviour of bankers during boom.
-Alcoholism
-Immigration
-Suicide
-Role of Protestant Ascendency in modern ireland
-Infidelity
-The Elite in Society
-Good and Evil as major forces in the world
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glad I picked this one up!, 16 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
Although I had not heard of this author before, I chose this from a book shop to read over the weekend. What a find! This book is very clever and is such an ingenius comment on greed, the financial meltdown and crisis all shrouded in mystery as to the fiendish indentities of the main protagonists! I loved Mr Hickey - I am sure he once gave me a quote on some building work! I thoroughly recommend this book.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, 3 Sep 2012
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Paperback)
I loved this book , it was funny and intelligent and had characters I could identify with. It is set in Ireland and deals a lot with economic bust/boom-an all too relevant topic unfortunately. I was bored and browsing for a new read and really just went out on a limb buying it because I generally read non fiction but I might get back into novels again. Only complaint is that it is a bit short for the price. I like a good long read.
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The Devil I Know
The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy (Paperback - 2 May 2013)
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