Most of us have had a night or two where, mired in alcohol, bad decisions have been made. I don’t for a second think that a complete lack of alcohol would make our protagonist, Dan Starkey, a contender for canonization. But, it would keep me from wanting to box this characters ears as I burst out laughing at his latest installment of a good idea. This perennially soused journalist has a talent for saying the wittiest thing at the wrong time. The whirlwind of death, danger, politics and sex that picks him up and plunks him down, well the worse for wear, begins with a kiss wrapped around a shared breath mint. A mint shared with a woman he barely knows as his wife whispers in his ears, “You have twenty-four hours to move out.” This paves the way for bad decision number two and the beginning of a domino effect in Starkey’s life. Within the proscribed twenty-four hours, the “other” woman will be dead and Starkey will be the number one suspect. The one clue that could lead Starkey to the real killer slips through his fingers like a greased eel. This very funny, very intelligent book could have been a mere candy bar between literary meals. It is, instead, a full meal itself. An insider’s view into the raging political scene of Northern Ireland in the mid ‘90’s and the warped marriage of a co-dependent couple are tightly conveyed. The sarcasm and fallibility of a “hero” doing all the wrong things for all the drunk reasons plays beautifully against the fast-paced nature of this thriller.
I have read almost the entire back catalogue of Colin Bateman, but strangely never actually read `Divorcing Jack' the novel that introduced his most used character Dan Starkey. I recently rectified this and was happy to see that even at the early stage Bateman was writing funny crime novels with a razor sharp edge. Starkey is not a likable man, but a charismatic character. In `Jack' he cheats on his wife and the woman he slept with ends up dead! Straight away you should not feel for him, but he is such a likable fellow that you cannot help it! Having read all of the later Starkey books `Jack' does feel slightly formulaic as the elements of the book are reused to better effect in later novels. However, as this is the original many people would not have read others in the series and the dark and surprising elements of the book should feel fresh.
Written in the mid 90s the book has a lot of talk about terrorism as the peace process had not yet achieved the relative peace it did. This means that the book does feel a little dated. However, unlike with some books written in the 90s this is no bad thing as rather than truly dating the book it feels more like a period piece. The attitudes still hold up today and Starkey's world weary and sarcastic wit is more relevant than ever. I envy those people who have yet to read Bateman's novels as he grows to become one of the best crime fiction writers around. His Starkey debut in `Divorcing Jack' is a great example of the type of work he creates, just be aware that the books get even better over time.
You'd hope off the back of a recent film that the sales of this undoubtedly great book would go up- unfortunately, due to the dismal advertising of said film adaptation, I don't think Bateman's going to be set up for life just yet. Nevertheless, that says nothing for the quality of the book. It is both fast paced and humourous, mainly due to the lead character, Dan Starkey, who is both touchingly useless and wilfully incapable of stopping the flow of cynical one-liners. The pen may not be mightier than the sword, but it is certainly funnier. For those that have seen the film, the political points are not so stated, but the sheer human value of it should make you think just what is behind all those news reports you see on the TV. Bateman never lets us forget that, despite the gags, there is tragedy involved in violence, whatever it is in the name of. He shows a side of Northern Ireland that you rarely get to see, unless you visit, one of normal people trying to get on with their lives. That his characters must get sucked into this only provides him with the opportunity to stick two fingers up to those that threaten any precarious equilibrium. Buy this book- it has more to it than you might first suspect, and there's no harm in having a laugh while you think a bit. Whether or not the irreverant Bateman would admit to such an aim, however, we shall never know. He'd probably just like the cash.
I was given this book as a Christmas present, and on the whole I'm not a great reader, so I only picked this up for the cool front cover (which i think has now been replaced). However, I think it is probably one of the best books I have read. I cannot think of anything bad or offensive about it, it is just a funny and easy-to-read book full of adventure, suprising twists and a little history thrown in, which is well explained if you don't know anything about Ireland! (like me). It's well written and the characters are well formed. There's not a bad bit.
Divorcing Jack is by far the best comment on Northern Ireland ever put into fiction. Many have tried to understand the complexities of Northern Ireland, and put it in prose, but most have failed. Bateman's genius is that he doesn't even try to explain. He simply presents some reasonably believable events (yes, bad stuff has happened here) and lets the reader work it out. Even better, he throws in a bit of wit. If you can't laugh at the situation here then there's not much left to laugh at. Bateman's unique take on Northern Ireland is a breath of fresh air to a distinctly stuffy subject. Whether you like the book or not simply take the book as a brave step in a new direction. For fans, if you like Starkey you will love 'Wee Sweetie mice and men' and his new 'Turbulent priests'. Read, relax and enjoy.
This was Colin Bateman's first - and best - novel. It's funny and it's thrilling.
The books I tend to compare it with are "Rancid Aluminium" by Hawes and "A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away" by Brookmyre - it certainly doesn't fail in comparison.
Bateman has written a LOT of books since (about 2 a year?) and most of them are very very good (mind you a couple have been rubbish - steer clear of "Maid of the Mist" and "Cycle of Violence", so bad it was relaunced under the name "Crossmaheart")