Wednesday, 3 October 2012

FIREPROOF by Gerard Brennan - a review

FIREPROOF by Gerard Brennan

Gerard Brennan is one of those names in the circles I have come to know that oozes quality. Having read his WEE ROCKETS a short while back (review here) I was keen to have a look at his next outing - FIREPROOF - as quick as I could. I was not disappointed.

Hell hath no fury for Mike Rocks. He's fireproof; an anomaly caused by a slip-up in afterlife bureaucracy. Lucifer bundles him off as an embarrassing problem with a mission to introduce Satanism to Northern Ireland. And while he's at it, Mike can exact revenge on the men who took his life.

 FIREPROOF is equal parts crime fiction, dark urban fantasy and black comedy.

Mmm . . . 'equal parts crime fiction, dark urban fantasy, and black comedy' - well there's a thing, eh. And I'd have to say it's a pretty accurate description.
FIREPROOF begins with Mike, a former Belfast bad boy, in Hell, being swallowed by his room-mate - a demon of horrific proportions, and somewhat unpleasant odours. Mike is no ordinary denzien of Hell, however. He has . . . powers. A bargain is struck twixt Mike and Lucifer, and Mike returns to life charged with spreading the word of Satansim, as only he can.

Let me say this first. I did not know what to expect from this book. I suppose I expected it to be similar to Wee Rockets, set as it is in Belfast, written by Gerard Brennan, noted for his Crime Fiction. But FIREPROOF is like nothing I've ever read before. Sure, it has it's crime-fiction elements. A vicious torturing gang, revenge killings, bank jobs, and numerous odious characters. But it is also a story of redemption, of hope, of the nature of religion, and of the spirit of man. And any story that includes Cerberus the three-headed dog of Greek mythology, a foul-mouthed imp, and a clairvoyant tramp called Cadbury, has my vote.

FIREPROOF is written on so many levels it defies categorising. Firstly, it is hilarious. Here is an extract from early in the book where Mike has had another run in with the foul-mouthed imp:

The imp's irritating voice screeched from behind Mike. He turned to find the little bastard on top of the ironwood desk, his bottom half missing.

'Ah, I caught you dead centre with that tanto then.'

'Bloody right you did. Do you know how long it's going to take to grow back all my bits and pieces?'

'But they will grow back, yeah?'

'Well, yes, but you didn't know that when you chopped me in half, did you?'


'And it's going to hurt like a bastard, do you know that?'

'I do now.'

'And you're not one bit sorry about it, are you?'

'Um,' Mike looked at Lucifer and Cerberus. Both licked their lips. 'I am truly sorry for cutting you in half, imp. Hope you'll forgive me.'

'Mike, I'm just not feeling it,' the imp said. 'Could you put some heart into it?'

'If the dog hadn't eaten it, maybe,' Mike said.

Cerberus growled.

'Okay, I'm sorry.'

Lucifer yawned. 'Well, that'll do, Mike. You're lying through your teeth, but from one bullshitter to another, I can appreciate the effort. Let's move on.'

The imp muttered as he dragged himself across the table and dropped off the edge.

'I'll see you later, imp,' Mike said.

'Fuck off,' the imp said.

FIREPROOF is, like WEE ROCKETS, set in modern day Belfast. Brennan writes Belfast like his heart beats and bleeds for the place in equal measure. FIREPROOF is as much a social statement as anything else; a chilling indictment of the modern day world we live in - a tale of the lost and the dispossessed, the broken and the weary.

But like I said, it is also surreal and hilarious. Amongst the hilarity, however, and the darkness, there is a gentleness that shines through in Brennan's writing. Every character has feelings. Every character is vulnerable - even the imp. The central character, Mike, is brilliantly written, and the way he changes throughout the book, the way his vulnerability is exposed, is so subtle as to be almost imperceptible - until the end. 

Just little touches, you know.And little touches make a great writer.

And through it all, beneath the surface, and above it, there is the constant dialogue regarding the very nature of belief itself. 

As I said earlier, FIREPROOF has many levels. It will make you laugh, it will make you shudder, and it will make you think.

A brilliant, stunningly original, book by a very talented author.

Top stuff, sir.

FIREPROOF and the very highly recommended WEE ROCKETS are available from Blasted Heath here