Yeats Is Dead doesn't seem like a book so much as a protracted pub crawl in the company of 15 hyper-articulate potty-mouths. Roddy Doyle, Frank McCourt, Anthony Cronin, and a dozen of their lesser-known compatriots have written a literary mystery that isn't terribly literary and doesn't really hang together as a mystery. It is, however, a showcase for riffing by some very clever writers. The novel commences with a chapter from Doyle, wherein a couple of cops on the take raid the trailer of a down-and-outer. They've been instructed to sack the joint by the all-knowing underworld crime boss Mrs. Bloom (much given to crying "O yes" in proper Joycean fashion). Unfortunately, the two policemen accidentally kill the resident hobo, and in doing so set off a whirlwind of brutality, inner-city intrigue, and unlikely romance.
Each chapter is written by a different writer, and each writer seems eager to outdo the last by killing off as many characters as possible. This can be good, bloody fun. It can also lead to some creaky exposition along the lines of this passage from Cronin's chapter: "The guard that got shot. What did he think he was up to? And what was his connection, if any, with the Tommy Reynolds murder?" More successful are the writers who altogether give up the ghost of creating a cohesive mystery, and instead wallow around in literary references and ridiculously purple prose. Here novelist Joseph O'Connor tries his hand at an action scene: "Gravity and Mrs. Roberts had entered into conflict, and, as devotees of the late Sir Isaac will confirm, out of such a negotiation may emerge one victor." Not exactly Tom Clancy, and a good thing, too.
The Irish must be a genial race, for they keep turning out these collaborative efforts, the most recent being Finbar's Hotel and Ladies' Night at Finbar's Hotel. (By the way, all royalties from the sale of this particular round robin will go to Amnesty International.) In any case, the format can be tough on the writer who must bundle it all up in the final chapter. Here the task falls to honorary Irishman Frank McCourt, and let it be said, he does his salty, saucy best. --Claire Dederer