Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Caimh McDonnell is certainly one of those authors intent on making his characters work for all they’re worth, and in I Have Sinned he sends out his former detective Bunny McGarry into yet another adventure in the second McGarry Stateside series entry. This time around, McGarry is forced to keep a grumpy priest alive while being targeted by assassins, all while pledging to avoid the three things he knows best: alcohol, swearing and violence.
Table of contents
Caimh McDonnell Assigns a Priest to McGarry
Book series following around current or former detectives are generally marked by one thing: repetition. We see our heroes go from case to case and essentially traverse the same beats over and over again, which I must say is by no means a bad thing; this literature definitely has its place in the world.
There are, however, authors who always try to keep things fresh and interesting in their series, and I would argue Caimh McDonnell is, at the moment at least, one of the best at doing so with his McGarry Stateside series, currently punctuated by its second book, I Have Sinned.
After finishing his grand adventure in the first book, Disaster Inc, McGarry is left searching for the Sisters of the Saint, and his one lead to find them, a certain Father Gabriel de Marcos, isn’t inclined to help him at all. McGarry decides to put him under surveillance, and witnesses the wholesome life led by the priest: helping kids off the street, keeping them out of gangs, and being targeted by assassins.
It’s more than obvious the dedicated priest has more than a few sins of his own he needs to atone for, and in this situation McGarry sees his golden opportunity. In order to gain the trust of the Sisters of the Saint and prove his bona fides to them he decides to try and protect the priest from whatever demons might be chasing after him.
However, the quarrelsome priest proves to be a heap of trouble on his own, and before saving him from his would-be assassins, McGarry has to struggle with his own urge to kill him. What’s worse, he has to accomplish his outlandish undertaking while denying himself the three elements in life which he knows best, the three things which have led him this far: alcohol, swearing and violence.
The Knight in Dented Armour
As far as protagonists go, McGarry certainly isn’t the most capable or successful person we’ve ever encountered. He stumbles and fumbles along the way and doesn’t seem to be shielded by the power of perfect decision-making like some characters in other novels.
Ultimately, he’s just a flawed and resourceful fellow who makes the best of his few strengths all while enduring and accepting the suffering brought on by his weaknesses. In my opinion, this balanced approach to his characterization in is what largely contributes to him being so likeable and interesting to follow.
Whenever McGarry is facing some sort of danger, and believe me there is more than enough of it in I Have Sinned to go around, we actually feel concern for him, for the tangible threat he is about to face. While of course we personally know he will get out of it all at the end, I couldn’t help but keep a tally on all the mental scars which keep on accumulating on this man. His general state of being never lets us forget the gravity of the situation he has found himself, the gravity of the choices he has been making over the course of his life.
Mothers never truly bury their children – they carry them on their shoulders for the rest of their days.― Caimh McDonnell, I Have Sinned
I thought it was a fairly clever and somewhat daring idea to throw McGarry into a context where he has to try and clean up his act, if only enough to gain the trust of some people, as it opened many different venues for both comedic and introspective elements.
While it certainly is a lot of fun to watch him struggle and keep his language clean, it’s also captivating to see how the experience is slowly transforming him against his will. Ultimately, this showed to me Bunny McGarry is the type of protagonist with still a lot of room for development, and I am optimistically-curious to see where the author might take him next.
A Comedy of Violence
No matter how what situation McGarry might find himself in, it seems his adventures always provide a grand and vivid blend of comedy and violence in spades. Even though our protagonist himself might be swearing off violence (for the time being at least) to the best of his abilities, the world around him certainly doesn’t care.
In I Have Sinned there are a number of violent scenes, but I have to give credit to the author for not overdoing the gratuitous factor nor dwelling on them for too long. More often than not they do have some purpose in the story, whether it be to advance the plot or develop a character.
Now, this is only the second book I’ve read so far by Caimh McDonnell, but from what I’ve seen I think it’s safe to say he has an exceptional brand of humour, the kind which elicits audible chuckles throughout the entire read. There is nary a moment where we aren’t treated to some sort of sarcastic remark or sardonic observation, and the deadpan dialogue is probably some of the best in recent memory. If there is anyone who can colour a violent scene with the paint of comedy, it’s definitely McDonnell.
The actual plot of I Have Sinned also doesn’t disappoint in the slightest, moving along at a brisk pace as our heroes are thrown from one fire to the next with a few laughs in-between. The driving elements, for me at least, were simply seeing how our characters would deal with the problems thrown at them, what the priest was hiding in his past, and where this unusual escapade will end up leading them to. I wouldn’t say there is any great mystery waiting to be solved, nor is there the promise of a mind-shattering climax. Instead, the real attraction of it is the chase rather than the catch, to see how our heroes traverse the abyss rather than what awaits them at the end.
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The Final Verdict
I Have Sinned by Caimh McDonnell is an excellent continuation of the McGarry Stateside series, offering a delightful mix of comedy, absurdity and violence which make for a fast-paced, laugh-out-loud thriller with some original twists to it. It even works well as a standalone book, so if you enjoy thrillers soaked in dark humour, then I highly recommend you check this book out, regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with the author.
Caimh McDonnell is an Irish full-time author as well as a former professional stand-up comedian and television writer.
His work on British TV shows earned him a nomination for the BAFTA award, his debut novel A Man With One of Those Faces was nominated for best novel at the at the 2017 CAP awards, and I Have Sinned was nominated for the 2019 Kindle Storyteller Award.