Fresh Blood

Name: John Gordon Sinclair

Title of Book: Seventy Times Seven

'This is a very strong debut tinged with sadness that will stay with you long after the final page. '

It is 1992 in Newry, Northern Ireland. Danny McGuire is a hired killer. He doesn’t enjoy his profession but in his own way he feels he is serving out justice to those he feels responsible for his brother, Sean’s death eight years earlier. Then Danny is contracted to kill the ‘Thevshi’ – ‘The Ghost’ who is living in the U.S. But this is not the sort of job he is normally given. The Ghost knows the circumstances of his brother’s murder and can lead Danny to those directly responsible. Danny has never needed to keep alive someone he has to kill.

Travelling to the States, Danny finds more than he bargained for. Things don’t feel right about this operation and Danny wonders if he himself will become a target once he has removed the ‘Thevshi’. However, despite Danny’s ill-feelings he is not prepared for the shock he gets when he finally learns the truth from his intended victim. Back in Ireland things are getting a bit too close for comfort and someone is prepared to put the screws on Danny by taking his eight-year old niece hostage. Soon, Danny is intend to do all he can to preserve all he holds sacred.

This debut novel from the well-known actor shows that the man can turn his hand to writing as well as acting. Sinclair vividly conveys the times of the ‘Troubles’ in Ireland and that some couldn’t even trust others who were evidently fighting on the same side. This is a tale of betrayal and lies in many forms leading Danny to question his beliefs and everything he has held close to his heart.

The book starts on Good Friday which I thought particularly significant as it involves resurrections in many guises. Rotating the chapters between Ireland and the U.S. kept the two plotlines flowing until they converged. ‘Seventy Times Seven’ is a thriller but it is more than that – it has a moral to the story – is what you believe in the absolute truth or is it a manipulated lie?

The character I warmed to the most was Marie who really stood out from the crowd and despite becoming involved in a situation not of her making she manages to deal with the violent interruptions that impact on her easy-going life as a waitress. Sinclair manages to give Marie soul and I am pleased that she will be re-appearing in his next novel.

Sinclair’s ending will divide readers and I for one thought it harsh but after a time away from the novel I could see that there really couldn’t have been any other solution. ‘Seventy Times Seven’ is a brutal, extremely addictive and vivid portrayal of the sins of men finally catching up with them. This is a very strong debut tinged with sadness that will stay with you long after the final page.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) You are better known as an actor of the stage and screen. What prompted you to turn your hand to writing?
I wrote a script about two highwaymen with Neil Morrissey quite a few years ago that was bought by Yorkshire Television (that shows how long ago) but was never made. I enjoyed the experience and originally had the Idea to write Seventy Times Seven as a screenplay. When my first kid was born I was looking for something to do that wouldn’t involve too much travel and meant I could do my fair share of the nappy changing. By coincidence I was approached by a small publishing company in Scotland and asked if I would be interested in writing an Autobiography, which I thought was a crap idea, but I pitched them the story of Danny McGuire instead. They seemed interested and that’s what started me writing it as a novel.
2) The novel takes place in 1992 during the time of the ‘Troubles’. Why did you pick this particular time for your novel?
Originally the story was set a lot later, but there are a few incidents that happen in the book that meant it had to take place before the Good Friday agreement (in the late nineties), but at a time when the political situation was starting to change for the better even though there were still a lot of problems in Northern Ireland. The story of the Security services handing the list of informers to the IRA knowing that the informers would then be killed is true. The British Government was on a cost cutting exercise, looking for ways of saving the expense of re-housing them and getting them new identities. Expediency at its finest.
3) The novel is quite filmic. Was this deliberate and do you believe that reading so many scripts have had an effect on the way you write?
I definitely think in pictures rather than words. Even to the point where I’d be having a conversation with my editor talking about a particular ‘scene’ and she would say ‘D’you mean, ‘Chapter’?” I also edited it in my head like a movie, wherever possible trying to move the story on if it felt like it was flagging. I wanted it to feel like a roller coaster ride rather than a donkey ride along the beach.
4) Danny McGuire isn’t what most people would call an atypical assassin. Why did you make Danny look as ‘geeky’ as described in the book?
My aim with Danny was to make him almost invisible. When he shows up at the Hotel in Tuscaloosa the receptionist doesn’t notice him for ages even though he’s standing right in front of her. The reason he’s so good at his job is because he looks so ordinary he doesn’t stand out in a crowd. And the only reason he wears glasses is because people still hesitate before throwing a punch at a guy in specs. He’s got twenty-twenty vision, but the glasses give him a competitive edge in a fight. If you go on-line and look up any police department’s ‘Most wanted list’, some of the most dangerous criminals out there look like the guy next door. I was trying to ‘de-hollywoodise’ him.
5) Most of the action takes place in America. Did you have to research a lot or have you lived in the States?
I’ve been to the States quite a bit over the years, but I’ve never been to Tuscaloosa. I chose it because it’s not on the tourist trail and one of the characters in the book (Finn O’Hanlon) is hiding-out there and doesn’t want to be found. I spent many an afternoon taking the wee yellow guy on Google maps for a stroll round the streets of Tuscaloosa looking at the scenery; ‘Stroogling’ as I call it. I looked into flying over, but it takes about two and a half days to get there and even after all that you’d be the only tourist. I also visited a lot of Alabama Police department web-sites and news & weather stations to get a feel for the climate.
6) As a Scotsman it would have been so much easier to write in the ‘Tartan Noir’ vein. Why did you choose to base your novel in Ireland?
I was born in Scotland, but I don’t see myself as a Scottish writer. Even the voice of the book is not really mine, if that makes sense. I was asked to read a bit at a festival event a few weeks ago and I found it really hard. I kept thinking it should be an American or an Irish guy reading this not me. I’ve also been really interested in Northern Ireland since the early eighties. There was an IRA bombing campaign on the mainland at the time and I used to watch the news and wonder why. I also had lots of friends who lived over there - from the same working class background as me - the only difference being, they had soldiers running around on the streets when they were growing up. I’ve read loads of books on the subject and although it’s not what the novel is about, I thought it would make a great backdrop to the story. Everything I’ve ever read about the ‘Troubles’ at some point talks about a sort of madness that took hold over there and I wanted to try and capture some of that.
7) There is a lot of humour scattered about the book. In particular your descriptions of Vincent in ‘Bulldog Jo’s’ bar which I found funny (and had to be re-read). Do you feel humour is important even when the subject matter is quite dark?
There’s a review of the ‘Ulster cycle’, which is a collection of Irish stories and myths from the 6th and 7th century that describes it as “Terse, violent with occasional smatterings of the supernatural and comedic moments”. When I read that I thought if I can give Seventy Times Seven some of those characteristics it would be another element to back up the story. There’s also a touch of ‘Gallows humour’ about it. I’ve been in some pretty dodgy situations over the years and at some point someone says something that makes everybody crack-up. I also think humour is a great tool for helping the reader to empathise with the characters in the book and I really hoped – despite what these characters do – people would care what happened to them.
8) I really took to Marie and thought her a great character. Was it difficult writing about an American woman?
I really liked Marie too. So-much-so that she’s going to make an appearance in the next book. I used to find it weird when writers talked about characters they had created as if they existed in their own right. Now that I’ve experienced it however I totally get it. I wasn’t really that conscious of the fact that she was American and Female, I just loved writing her dialogue and spending time with her. She was pretty cool. If I met her in real life I’d want to snog her…is that just wrong?
9) Do you have any plans to write a second novel or do you feel you have got the ‘writing bug’ out of your system?
If anything I’ve got the writing bug worse than ever. I was very lucky to get a two book deal with Faber and Faber and I’m busy just now Stroogling around Kosovo and Niagra doing some research. It’s twenty years later and one of the minor characters in Seventy Times Seven, Niamh McGuire, is the main protagonist.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
‘Blood Meridian’ - Cormac McCarthy: unrelentingly violent to the point it’s almost unreadable, until you learn that’s what Cormac McCarthy was trying to do. He wanted to write a book that left the reader with a sense of what violence is really like rather than glorifying it.

‘Stick’ - Elmore Leonard: only because it was the first of his novels that I read and was instantly hooked. It got me into reading crime.

Virtually anything that Raymond Chandler has written. For me he’s still the ultimate: great characters, and the coolest dialogue ever written.