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An Honest Life- J.F Conroy

12/04/2022- An Honest Life Review

I just want to say a massive thank you to John for sending me a copy of his book in exchange for an honest review.

Dublin city has taken care of itself for years, governed by two criminal gangs who intertwine in each route without the need to be involved in each other's company, until now. A story of two families who are at opposite sides of the spectrum in their quality of life. The criminal element connects them within the city they live in. The only difference between them is that one man controls everything and everyone around him and the other man's life is governed by the poor choices he makes affecting everyone around him. Declan Hennessey was an adopted child who grew up in the back streets of Dublin. His mother, Geraldine, raised him on her own after his father died unexpectedly. He is a tough, ruthless villain and an intimidating character. A younger woman, Kathleen, saw passed his exterior persona and the pair soon bonded. Within a year they married and went on to have one son, Kieran. Rising through the ranks, Declan eventually took control running the north side of Dublin's crime scene owning a pub and a hardware store. A new upcoming smarter pair of brothers (the Finnertys) aim to intimidate and take control of his long acquired assets and schemes as Declan struggles to maintain power over his territory. A rival gang (the O'Driscolls) in the south of the city have acquired the brother's services and naively gave them too much control too soon before they are caught duping the head of the outfit. Martin Lynch is a casual criminal of sorts who gets caught up in danger because of his excesses. He struggles to keep his head above water with bad life choices leading to debts, lack of work and money. His charm has only got him so far in life as his drinking and gambling have only added to the strain on his family's day to day life. His wife Bridget juggles to keep the fabric of the family together as long shift patterns drain her emotionally. They are coping with the factor that their teenage daughter, Sinead, is overcoming pivotal stages of cancer. Their son, Shane, grew up with Kieran and the pair get caught up in the struggle between their fathers. Kathleen and Bridget are the best of friends, and their strong bond plays out throughout the story. Declan and Martin despise each other and share common traits that unknowingly connect them throughout the story. Underneath all their conflicts, they will both do anything to protect their families. Their journey takes a torrid turn which sees the fabric of their family structure torn apart in different scenarios. The story delves into the powerful emotions of the main characters, no matter how strong each individual thinks they are. It brings home the importance that at the heart of everyone's underlying happiness, it is family. Significant themes of loyalty, love, strength and friendship prevail in the characters. These traits take them down a path to their lowest point of reckoning until they break and redeem themselves, showing their true potential in a person they never thought they could be.

First of all, I am incredibly impressed by John's work. His debut novel 'An Honest Life' captivated me from the outset. His descriptive writing style was unique, I found it fascinating how an author can write so impeccably to the point, as a reader, I really believed I was there. The imagination that powered through me was remarkable.

The start of the novel was a slow burn, but as you read through it becomes evident the significance of the layout. John's accomplishment enforcing character development in this novel was outstanding, for his 'first' book, I am beyond inspired by the way he managed to fully evoke each personality, their strengths, their values and their weaknesses just through words. I felt as though I truly knew each individual character and was taken on a full emotional rollercoaster through their whole circumstances and their reasonings behind why they made such choices.

Going in blind, I didn't expect the book to be as it was. It was more than just a 'crime' novel. It was a book with such powerful imagery, yet poured with heart-breaking, funny and an unusual enticing mix of cross-genres all in one. I was completely taken on a constant irregular state of emotions through each chapter, one minute I was bawling with laughter, the next I was crying into the book and wetting the pages. I loved how John included short chapters, but didn't rush any scene, or pour any irrelevant information into pages just to fill time. He really took pride in this book, and it's clear to see.

I don't know much about Ireland, but after a swift google, the incredible traditions that was so heavily influenced within this book was evident, their mannerisms and accent was achieved brilliantly. It's clear to see John took pride in his research to emphasise these factors to set the scene and the pacing throughout.

If you love crime, with a mix of comedy, realistic settings and pure family dramas, this book is for you.

I'm so grateful to have been able to have read this book from this author, and I am shocked to know it is John's first debut novel. I am really excited to be able to read more from him in the future.


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