I finished The Dead Yard this morning while feeding the baby -- I think I'm going to be going through audiobooks a lot faster these days...
Although I mentioned in my previous post about The Dead Yard that the book seemed to start as a farce, it certainly doesn't end as one. Michael infiltrates an IRA splinter group, and at the beginning they're mostly pathetic. There's a funny scene where they rob a bank, but all of the big bills are in the safe, and the tellers are telling the gang that they ought to wait around for the manager to return. It teeters on the edge of violence, but ends calmly.
The gang's next attempt is also a big screw-up, but this time McKinty ratchets up the tension a bit by turning it into a hostage situation, and we see that even these screw-ups can create a situation where innocents can die. From that point, the game turns serious, until the exciting finale.
I'm not really sure what I think of this novel vis-a-vis the first one. On the one hand, there's no question that most of my issues with the first one have gone away here. The plot is less straight-forward, and right until the end there I didn't know how it was going to end. (Obviously Michael's going to get away, but what about Kit or Peter?) Also, in Dead I Well May Be, Michael was strongly developed, but the other characters not as much. Here, Kit stands out as a great character, but on top of that, even a minor character like Jacky is more nuanced than, say, Fergal or Andy were in the first book.
On the other hand, there's a sort of macho posturing here that I didn't like as much. In the first book, Michael would say that he'd use his army training to sneak into some place, but then follow that up immediately with something like "who am I kidding? I was in that course for two days and then kicked out." Even in the coda to that book, in which he's much more self-confident, there's a sort of self-deprecatoriness that I found appealing. Here, we get Michael saying things like "I swear that I will avenge you, Samantha," but with no self-deprecatory follow-up, and I found myself missing it.
All these differences point to one larger fact, that this book is a big departure from the first novel, and I really like that risk-taking. McKinty could've gone back to do another story about Michael in the big bad city, but instead he struck out in a very different direction; I always think it's cool when authors do that, especially when the new work is as satisfying as this one ultimately is.
As a final though, I think Michael ducks his own responsibility for the way events unfurled. At one point, he escalates the situation, hoping for a big score, and then sort of plays down the aftermath. I don't know if McKinty glosses over that because he wants to make Michael a bit of an unreliable narrator or if he didn't want to make Michael too unappealing, but I think it's important.