‘Night Boat to Tangier’ by Kevin Barry – A Funny Sad Elegy for Two Aging Irish Criminals.


‘Night Boat to Tangier’ by Kevin Barry   (2019) – 255 pages

‘Night Boat to Tangier’ is the story of two fading Irish gangsters, best friends, in their early fifties, Maurice and Charlie. Charlie has a severe limp; Maurice has lost one of his eyes. Maurice and Charlie started dealing dope in high school.

Money accrued; ambition was fed. Dope brought girls and money. There was langour by day and violence in the night.”

Since then, they had devoted their entire adult life to smuggling drugs. They have made huge amounts of money at times, nearly all of which has somehow flown away, mostly on bad investments and illegal drugs for their own personal use.

They are at the waiting room of the ferry terminal in Algeciras on the southern coast of Spain expecting Maurice’s 23 year old daughter Dilly to show up. Dilly left Ireland three years ago and has not returned, but Maurice has heard rumors that she might be coming in on the ferry from Tangier today. Early on they encounter a dreadlocked young guy Ben who looks like he might know Dilly, so Maurice and Charlie manhandle him to find out more of Dilly:

I don’t know if you’re getting the sense of this yet, Ben. But you’re dealing with truly dreadful fucken men here.”

As they wait, Maurice and Charlie talk about the old days. Scenes from the past are juxtaposed with scenes of the two waiting, and we readers get nearly their entire life story.

‘Night Boat to Tangier’ doesn’t glorify these hardened Irish criminals but it surely humanizes them. What we are dealing with here is a novel in the Loveable Irish Criminal genre times two. Many of us readers have been here a thousand and one times before.

Of course at times Maurice gets soppy sentimental about his daughter Dilly even though he was not around most of the time when she was growing up.

Twenty years ago I was so sick of cuteness in Irish fiction that I made it a point to avoid it at all costs. However Kevin Barry is so good at Irish cute that I can’t resist.

The scenes in this novel are supremely constructed. There is one brazen incident from the past when Maurice confronts Charlie in a bar. Kevin Barry heightens the menace of this cofrontation by having it told by the bar owner who wishes to maintain order in his bar at all costs.

The scenes are highly climactic and cinematic. I believe there is a strong possiblility that ‘Night Boat to Tangier’ will be turned into a movie, something along the lines of ‘In Bruges’ starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

Along the way in ‘Night Boat to Tangier’, Maurice and Charlie give us the “Seven True Distractions in Life” which I think are quite good. The “Seven True Distractions in Life” are want-of-death, lust, love, sentimentality, grief, pain, and avarice.


Grade:    A



4 responses to this post.

  1. I love this review. This looks like a book I would really enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I enjoyed this so much. The dialogue was fantastic. I heard someonw describe it as Beckett meets Sexy Beast which I thought summed it up well!

    Liked by 1 person


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