A troubled starlet dies in a helicopter crash off the Irish coast after sending a series of mysterious text messages. Three years later, a hungry young reporter desperate for work takes an assignment to write a quickie celebrity biography of her — but finds complexity and danger.
That seemingly accidental death is the catalyst for the events in Bloodland, a new thriller by Irish author Alan Glynn.
Glynn tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Mary Louise Kelly that his book takes the reader from Dublin to New York to the Congo in pursuit of a tangled story of murder, corruption and illegal mining of rare ores.
"It's an exploration, if you like, of the power dynamics that go on" between New York boardrooms and warlords in the Congo, Glynn says.
But he plays out these grand themes — the global economic crisis, America's battle with China for dominance in Africa, the human costs of illegal mining — on a very personal scale, through a group of deeply flawed but compelling characters.
"I think the danger with something like this is to be polemical," Glynn says. "If you start with an agenda, a political agenda in fiction, you're asking for trouble. It's important to kind of not preach, even though at the heart of the story, there is a kind of a political point."
Glynn says what interests him is the psychology of the powerful characters on his pages. "Characters which, on the surface ... might seem extremely unsympathetic, [but] I think by getting close to the way they think, there's a certain ambivalence that comes out, which is interesting," he says.
None of those characters really know how the story will turn out — they're all piecing it together as they go along. Glynn says that's the way he likes it.
"I don't really plan in great detail at all," he says. "I'm always reminded of that great quote by E.L. Doctorow. He said writing a novel is like driving a car at night: You can just see as far as the headlights will show you. But you can make the whole journey that way ... and I think that keeps it fresh for the writer as well as the reader."