I have been reading the novels of Michael Collins, emigrant Irishman, now living in Seattle, namesake and distant relation of the Michael Collins, since I picked up a copy of The Resurrectionists by mistake. I don’t remember what it was I meant to read but it was a fortuituous error.
Collins was Booker-shortlisted for The Keepers of Truth in 2000. This is the first of his trilogy charting economically-devastated and emotionally-shipwrecked small town America. As the narrator is a journalist employed by the local newspaper “The Daily Truth”, a hack with an inflated sense of his worth and talent, Collins uses the novel to explore the media issues; press intrusion, survival of newspapers in the digital age. The Resurrectionists is set in the same area, “the world capital of nowhere” and concerns itself with the demise of the farming community. Lost Souls explores the intrigue and corruption of small town local politics.
The twist is that these novels, besides containing searing social commentary and documentary, are also thrillers. And it’s not only the murder victims who are damaged. Everyone has baggage – the narrators, the investigators and the subsidary characters. If you like the dark side of human nature, these are the novels for you.
After devouring these three, my attention turned to Collins’s; early works – The Life and Times of A Teaboy and Emerald Underground. These are his “Irish” novels and are very very bleak. They also prove the maxim that you can sometimes get a shock when reading back catalogues. Emerald Underground is absolutely vile. An Irish emigrant enters America illegally and hits rock bottom. The tale of his survival is full of white trailer trash, expletives and sodomy. As a piece of writing it acheives its objectives and is, therefore, accomplished but it is very, very sleazy.
His latest novel The Secret Life of E Robert Pendleton was published 2006. E Robert Pendleton is a college lecturer and failed poet/author. When a failed suicide attempt leaves him disabled, his carer, and unsuccessful postgraduate student, discovers an unpublished but brilliant novel in his basement. She subsequently ensures its publication and it is acclaimed. However, as it contains an uncannily accurate description of a local unsolved murder, E Robert Pendleton becomes chief suspect and the case is reopened. Once again blending mystery with (sometimes vitriolic) social critique, Collins this time attacks American academia and the publishing industry itself. For the well-read there is a lot of literary and philosophical discussion (Nietzsche figures prominently); for the cynics lots of world-weariness and for the crime lovers a cracking mystery with a completely unexpected denouement.
But the biggest mystery of all – why isn’t Collins better known?