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A helicopter crash off the coast of Ireland sends unexpected ripples through the international community in this intricate new thriller from the author of Winterland and Limitless (now a major motion picture).
Susie Monaghan was on the cusp of stardom when her life was cut short by a tragic helicopter crash. After a full investigation, her death was ruled an accident: case closed. But a hungry young journalist named Jimmy Gilroy isn't buying the official story. Before dying, Susie's path had crossed with an unlikely gallery of powerful men: an ex-Prime minister with a carefully guarded secret; the businessman brother of a U.S. Senator angling for the Oval Office; and a billionaire investor with his eye on an extremely rare commodity. Might there also be a link between Susie's death and a deranged security contractor operating in Congo? Piece by piece, Jimmy uncovers a bizarre nexus of coincidence among these disparate people and events, revealing a conspiracy of frightening reach and consequence--one that could cost him his life.
Set against a vividly drawn world of corporate and political intrigue, Alan Glynn's Bloodland is a riveting paranoid thriller of uncommon depth and page-turning suspense.
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Alan Glynn is a graduate of Trinity College. His first novel, The Dark Fields, was released in March 2011 as the movie Limitless by Relativity Media. He is also the author of Winterland.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Jimmy puts his coffee down and reaches across the desk to answer it.
He glances at the display, vaguely recognises the number, can’t quite place it.
‘Well, well, young Mr Gilroy. Phil Sweeney.’
Jimmy’s pulse quickens. Of course. The voice is unmistakable. He straightens up. ‘Phil? God, it’s been a while. How are you doing?’
‘Not bad. Keeping busy. You?’
‘Pretty good, yeah.’
And after this, Jimmy thinking, maybe a little better.
‘So that was a shame there, all those cutbacks. Hard going, I imagine.’
‘Yeah.’ Jimmy nods. ‘It’s not exactly front page news anymore, though.’
‘No, no, of course not. But come here. Listen.’ Formalities out of the way, it seems. Very Phil. ‘Is it true what I hear?’
‘Er … I don’t know, Phil. What do you hear?’
‘That you’re writing an article or something … about Susie Monaghan?’
Jimmy looks at the block of text on the screen of his iMac. ‘Yeah,’ he says, after a pause. ‘But it’s not an article. It’s a book.’ Cagey now. ‘A biography.’
‘I’m no editor, but … Susie Monaghan? Give me a break. Tell me it’s not the prospect of the last chapter they’re drooling over.’
Jimmy is taken aback at this – celebrity drool, as he remembers it, always having been something of a Phil Sweeney speciality. Though he’s right in one respect. The paragraphs Jimmy currently has on the screen are from the last chapter, the longest and most detailed in the book and the one he’s tackling first.
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘But that’s not all they’re interested in. There’s plenty of other stuff. The boyfriends, the drugs, the tantrums.’
‘Which no one outside of the Daily Star demographic would give a shit about if it wasn’t for how she died.’
Jimmy shrugs. ‘Not necessarily. It’s an intriguing story, her death, the timing of it, what it exemplified.’ He pauses. ‘What it … meant.’ He shifts in his chair, picks up a pen, fiddles with it. There was a time when a call from Phil Sweeney was a good thing. It meant a lead, a tip-off, information.
This he’s not so sure about.
Jimmy’s old man and Phil Sweeney had been in business together in the late nineties. They were good friends. Then the old man died and Sweeney started taking an interest in Jimmy’s career. He kept an eye out for him, introduced him to people.
Fed him stories.
‘Oh come on, Jimmy.’
But those days, it would appear, are over.
‘I’m sorry, Phil, I’m not with you. What is this?’
There is a long sigh from the other end of the line.
Jimmy glances over at the door. He can hear voices. The students from across the hall. Are they arguing again? Fighting? He’s not sure, but it might come in handy as an excuse to get off the phone, if he needs one, if this conversation gets any weirder.
‘Look,’ he says, no longer attempting to hide his frustration. ‘I’m doing a bio of Susie Monaghan, OK? Sneer if you want to, but I’m taking it seriously.’ He hesitates, then adds, ‘Because you know what, Phil? It’s work, something I haven’t had a lot of recently.’
He tightens his grip on the phone.
‘Yeah, Jimmy, I know, I know, but –’
‘Well, I don’t think you do actually –’
‘I do, I get it, you need the assignment, and that’s fine, it’s just –’
‘Oh, what? I’m supposed to run all my proposals by you now, is that it?’
‘No, Jimmy, please, it’s just … all this focus on the crash –’
‘It’s where the story is, Phil, where the different elements converge. And yeah, to justify the advance, I’ve promised to pull out all the stops, sure, but…’ He pauses. ‘I mean, what the hell do you care?’
Sweeney doesn’t answer.
‘No, tell me,’ Jimmy goes on. ‘What’s it to you? Really, I don’t understand.’
Sweeney draws a breath. ‘OK, look,’ he says, ‘just slow down for a second, yeah? This advance you mentioned. How much is it? I’m sure we could come to some –’
Jimmy hangs up, stands up – backs away, stares at the phone appalled, as if it had unexpectedly come to slithering, slimy life in his hand.
When it starts ringing again, he doesn’t move. He lets it ring out, waits a bit and then checks to see if there’s a message.
‘Jimmy, Jesus, for fuck’s sake, I was only saying. Look, we can go over this again, but just be careful who you talk to. This isn’t about Susie Monaghan. And call me, yeah?’ He pauses. ‘Take care of yourself.’
Jimmy exhales, deflates.
He flips the phone closed and puts it on the desk. He sits down again.
Be careful who you talk to.
This from Phil fucking Sweeney? PR guru, media advisor, strategist, fixer, bagman, God knows what else? Someone for whom talking to people was – and presumably still is – nothing less than the primary operating system of the universe? Be careful who he talks to? Jesus Christ. What about Maria Monaghan, Susie’s older sister? A woman he’s been pestering for the last two weeks. He’s meeting her this evening.
Does that count?
Jimmy gets up and wanders across the room. He stops at the window and gazes out.
This is all too weird. Not to mention awkward. Because he really does need the assignment. It’s his first decent opportunity in nearly two years.
The bay is cloudy, overcast. The tide is coming in.
Jimmy releases a weary sigh.
Two years ago he was still at the paper and doing really well, especially with that ministerial expenses story. He’d made connections and built up sources – assisted in no small way, it has to be said, by Phil Sweeney. Then these lay-offs were announced. Eighty-five jobs across the board, last in, first out. Among the thirty or so editorial staff affected Jimmy was in the middle somewhere and didn’t stand a chance. He eventually found a part-time job covering the Mulcahy Tribunal for City magazine, but after six months of that not only did the tribunal come to an end City magazine itself did as well, and the work more or less dried up. He did a few bits and pieces over the next year and a half for local papers and trade publications, as well as some online stuff, but nothing that paid much or was regular enough to count as a real job.
Then, about a month ago, this came up.
It was through an old contact at City who was running the Irish office of a London publisher and looking for someone, preferably a journalist, to slap together a book on Susie Monaghan in time for the Christmas market. Jimmy didn’t have to think about it for very long. The advance was modest, but it was still a lot more than anything he’d earned recently.
He turns away from the window.
But what is this bullshit now with Phil Sweeney? Did he even understand it correctly? Was Sweeney asking him not to do the book? To drop it? It seems incredible, but that’s what it sounded like.
Jimmy glances over at his desk.
The advance. How much is it? I’m sure we could come to some –
– to some what? Some arrangement?
On one level, Jimmy shouldn’t even be questioning this. Because it’s not as if he doesn’t owe Phil Sweeney, and owe him big. He does. Of course he does. But dropping a story? That’s different. Being paid to drop a story? That’s fucking outrageous.
He doesn’t understand. Is Phil representing someone? An interested party? A client? What’s going on?
Jimmy walks over to the desk.
All of the materials laid out here – transcripts of interviews, old Hellos and VIPs, Google-generated printouts, endless photos – relate directly to Susie.
He selects one of the photos and looks at it.
Susie in a nightclub, champagne flute held up, shoulder strap askew.
She looks tired – wrecked, in fact – like she’s been trying too hard and it’s not working anymore.
But Jesus, that face … those eyes.
It didn’t matter how tawdry the setting, how tacky or low-rent the gig, Susie’s eyes always had this extraordinary effect of making everything around her seem urgent and weighted and mysterious.
As he replaces the photo, Jimmy wonders what the sister will be like. He’s spoken to her on the phone a few times and they’ve exchanged maybe a dozen e-mails – his focus always on getting her to say yes.
To talk to him.
The primary operating system of the universe.
Jimmy sits down and faces the computer. He looks at the words on the screen. Drums his fingers on the desk. Wonders how he got from investigating a ministerial expenses scandal, and doing it in a busy newsroom, to writing about a dead actress, and in a one-bedroom apartment he can barely afford the monthly repayments on.
But then something more pressing occurs to him.
How did Phil know what he was working on in the first place? Who did he hear it from? In what circumstances would Phil Sweeney be talking to someone – or would someone be talking to Phil Sweeney – where the subject might possibly come up?
Jimmy doesn’t like this one bit.
Nor is it the kind of thing he responds well to, being put under pressure, nudged in a certain direction, told what to do or what not to do. And OK, an unauthorised showbiz biography isn’t exactly Watergate, or uncovering My Lai, but still, he should be free to write whatever he wants to.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it?
He stares for another while at the block of text on the screen.
But he’s no longer in the mood.
He checks his coffee. It has gone cold.
He looks back at the screen.
He reaches over to the keyboard, saves the document and puts the computer to sleep.
* * *
‘I watch a lot of TV.’
He just blurts it out.
It’s not how he’d answer the same question if it came from a journalist, but God, could he not dredge up something a little more interesting for Dave Conway? Travel maybe? Or a bit of consultancy? The Clinton Foundation? Bilderberg?
Standing at the window, phone cradled on his shoulder, Larry Bolger gazes out over the rooftops of Donnybrook.
Usually when a journalist asks him how he’s spending his time these days he’ll say he’s serving on various boards, which is true, and then add that he’s started writing his memoirs, which isn’t. But at least he gives the impression of being busy. And that’s important.
Or is it?
Serving as a corporate director, in any case, doesn’t take up that much time, and not writing your memoirs doesn’t take up any time at all … so, yeah, big deal, he does have a lot of time on his hands. But is it anyone’s business how he chooses to spend it? No, and if that means he watches six episodes of CSI in a row, or a whole season of Scrubs, or the Hermann Goering Week on the History Channel in its entirety, well then, so be it.
Because there’s no manual for this, no seven-step recovery programme, no Dr Phil or Deepak-whatshisname bestseller. If you’re an ex-head of state, and you don’t have anything lined up on the jobs front, then that’s pretty much it, you’re on your own.
‘What,’ Conway asks, ‘like Primetime, Newsnight?’
‘Yeah, that kind of thing. Current affairs.’
‘Keeping ahead of the curve?’
Bolger throws his eyes up. He didn’t phone Dave Conway for this, for a chat.
‘So listen,’ he says, ‘this week some time, are you free?’
‘Er, I’m –’
‘I won’t keep you long.’
‘OK, Larry. Sure.’
They make an arrangement for the following morning. Here in the hotel.
After he hangs up Bolger trades the phone for the remote. He stands in the middle of the room and points it at the 42-inch plasma screen on the wall.
When he read that thing in the paper last week, he wasn’t sure what to make of it – though it certainly put the shits up him. What use talking to Dave Conway will be he doesn’t know either, probably none, but he needs to talk to someone. He needs reassurance. Besides, he hasn’t had much contact with any of the old crowd since leaving office over a year ago and he’s been feeling isolated.
He fiddles with the remote.
It’s amazing, he thinks, how quickly you get cut out of the loop.
He even swallowed his pride and tried phoning James Vaughan a couple of times, but the old fucker won’t return his calls. They haven’t spoken for about six months, not since that debacle over the IMF job Bolger had been up for and really wanted. Vaughan had championed his candidacy in Washington, or so it had seemed at the time, but then without any explanation he’d blocked it.
It was awful. Bolger had had everything mapped out, his trajectory over the next ten years – a solid stint at the IMF to hoover up connections and kudos, then a move to some post at the UN, in Trade and Development or one of the agencies or maybe even, if the timing was right, Secretary General. Why not? But if not, Trade, Human Rights, Aid, whatever. It was his dream, his 4 a.m. fantasy, and when Vaughan chose for whatever reason to snuff it out, Bolger was devastated. Because it wasn’t just that job, the first phase of the trajectory, it was the whole fucking trajectory. The thing is, you don’t survive getting passed over like that, it’s too public, too humiliating, so you may as well stuff your CV in a drawer and dig out your golf clubs.
That is, if you play golf.
The former Taoiseach, the prime minister, in any case, reckons that James Vaughan owes him at least a phone call.
But apparently not.
Bolger often thinks of that lunch in the Wilson Hotel, what was it, four, five years ago now?
How times change.
He goes into ‘My Recordings’ on the digital box, which is still clogged up with movies and documentaries he hasn’t got around to watching yet. He flicks down through everything on it now, but nothing catches his eye. He turns over to Sky News and watches that for a bit.
They appear to be having an off day.
The news is scrappy, unfocused, nothing with any real heat in it. They need a good natural disaster, or a high-profile sex scandal, or a child abduction.
Get their juices flowing.
He turns the TV off and throws the remote onto the sofa.
He looks around the room. Bolger likes living in a hotel, it’s convenient and private. You don’t have pain-in-the-arse neighbours to deal with. He and Mary have had an apartment here since they sold the house in Deansgrange, and with the girls in college now it suits them just fine.
He looks at his watch, and then over at the drinks cabinet.
Mary is out.
Bridge night. He could have gone with her, but he can’t stand the fucking chatter. All these people in their late fifties and early sixties sitting round playing cards. It’s too much like some sort of a retirement community for his taste. His excuse is that he’s absorbed in writing his memoirs and has little or no time for socialising, something he even has Mary believing – and to look at his desk in the study, with all the papers laid out on it, and the permanently open laptop, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was true. Which of course it should be. Because working on his memoirs would be good for him. It’d keep his mind occupied, keep him out of trouble.
But he has no idea how to write a book – how he should structure it or where he should even begin. He’s actually sorry now he signed the contract.
He looks over at the drinks cabinet again.
Ever since last week – Monday, Tuesday, whatever day it was – Bolger has been acutely aware of this piece of furniture in the corner of the room. Prior to that, it was just an object, albeit a beautiful one, with its art deco walnut veneer and sliding glass doors. It never bothered him in any way. He liked it. When required, he even served people drinks from it. But then he saw that repor...
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