Warlords and Tycoons

January 23, 2012   •   By Cullen Gallagher


Alan Glynn

ALAN GLYNN's Bloodland, a loosely related follow-up to 2009's Winterland, is a stunningly intricate and timely piece of globalization noir. With a core ensemble cast of roughly a dozen characters, and locations spanning three continents, Bloodland defies simple summarization. It all begins with an out-of-work Irish journalist, Jimmy Gilroy, taking a fluff commission to write a biography of Susie Monaghan, a celebrity who died in a helicopter crash. While it comes as no surprise that Gilroy soon links the incident to a nearby international conference on corporate ethics, he does so subtly and deftly. It's a pleasure to read such a smartly designed political thriller. Alternating between the perspectives of each of the major players, Glynn goes behind the scenes of a covert international operation that involves Congolese warlords, American tycoons, United Nations inspectors, Iraq War vets, and scores of corrupt politicians and businessmen.

Taken on their own, revelations of blood minerals and governments that look the other way aren't anything groundbreaking, but Glynn doesn't rest on such easy straight-from-the-headline tactics. His prose may be more functional than stylish, where Glynn excels is in the web-work of conspiracy: following a single thread until it forms a complete and complex pattern. It's a long and twisty path from drugged child laborers in African mines to coked-out celebrities and shady politicos, but the connections are logical and all too recognizable. In its depiction of immoral business practices and the increasingly blurred lines between criminals and politicians, Bloodland is like an amped-up 21st-century version of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key. From the exploitation of human labor through umpteen middlemen to who-knows-where, Bloodland captures the fragmentary and alienating mechanism of international affairs with prismatic clarity.