Call Him Mine
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Call Him Mine, the debut novel from Tim MacGabhann, is a terrific, tightly-paced thriller that utterly transports its reader. With beautifully poetic visual description, the tale takes us from the saturated palettes and neon diffusions of Mexico City to the filthily polluted, crime-ravaged regions in the eastern part of the country – land rich with oil and horror.
MacGabhann’s narrator is Andrew, a somewhat jaded Irish journalist who has been based in the Mexican capital for eight years. The tale opens as he and Carlos, his photojournalist boyfriend, discover the brutally mutilated body of a young student in the eastern city of Poza Rica. When, shortly afterwards, Carlos is murdered, Andrew sets out on an urgent, grief-ridden mission to uncover the ‘story’ behind his boyfriend’s death. Supported by two journalist comrades and fuelled by a jittery diet of coffee, cigarettes, sugared doughnuts and frequent slugs of acid, Andrew’s lines of inquiry lead him in the direction of the oil pipelines, and the vicious capabilities of those determined to sustain their flow.
The narrative contains riveting escalations of tension and jolts of fast, dramatic action, and the text’s true strength lies in MacGabhann’s seamless merging of these developments with the book’s quieter moments. Though his urban and rural backdrops are frequently dotted with the iconography of religious figures, his own characters – even those who appear fleetingly – emerge as thoughtfully rendered, nuanced products of individual experience. This is aided by the dark, dry humour that, in spite of the grimness of the inciting incident, runs throughout Andrew’s interior dialogue, and his interactions with others.
The sense of place, too, is utterly electric: with considered, efficient strikes, the story’s sounds, smells, weather and colour diffuse across the narrative – a restaurant is ‘crumbling pink Art Deco on the outside, winking cutlery on the inside.’ Often, a sense of anatomical pressure or vulnerability surges through MacGabhann’s descriptive language: a terrified drive takes Andrew ‘past drenched palms and the smashed-ruby glitter of brakelights,’ while the interior of a bar is described as having a ‘warm, aortic dark.’ The novel also makes use of the way memories become stacked upon particular places to bring us into Andrew and Carlos’s backstory, and the juxtaposition between these glimpses and the present narrative moment is often very moving.
Call Him Mine has been likened to ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Narcos’, and the narrative, with its fast-moving combinations of crucial quests, visceral violence and dark humour, is certainly gripping. But central to the trajectory of the plot is Andrew’s uncovering of a scoop; though the subject may differ, the text’s progress, in this respect, bears some similarity to the 2015 film Spotlight. Like Spotlight, it is cleverly composed of truths to be uncovered by the protagonist, and truths withheld by him – alluded to, and then gradually revealed in later stages. And like that film, MacGabhann’s novel simultaneously informs and celebrates the diligence involved in gathering and disseminating that information: facts those in the highest echelons of power would rather stay deeply buried.
Words: Catherine Gaffney