Review: An Irish hitman juggles murder and parenthood

“The Lemon Man” by Keith Bruton (Brash Books)

Patrick Callen, a contract killer from Dublin, Ireland with mild obsessive-compulsive disorder, stays organized by making lists. On his first day in Keith Bruton’s debut novel, the list includes:

– To buy food

— Sleeping with Olivia

— Visit My

— Kill Henry O’Neil

Patrick, who cruises the streets of Dublin on his 1950s Modello Oro bicycle, was pedaling home from the market when he stopped to deal with O’Neil, a drug dealer and junkie who owed his supplier more than he could pay. Worried that someone might “cut” his bag of lemons, Patrick slid it off the handlebars and took it with him to do the stunt. From then on, he was known as The Lemon Man.

The details of O’Neil’s hit accurately convey Patrick’s attitude to his chosen profession.

“I climb back into my shorts and pull out the gun, shooting little Henry O’Neil right in the forehead, on target. He falls back on the chair with a bullet in the head. I touch my upper lip with the top of my tongue. My mustache is growing… I scratch my head with the muffler. It’s hot.”

But just when you’re sure Patrick is a psychopath, he discovers a baby in O’Neil’s dirty drug lair, can’t stand to leave it there, and takes it with him.

Suddenly, ‘The Lemon Man’ anti-hero struggles with changing diapers and tries to figure out what toddlers eat. But he also has a job to do. There are people who need to be killed and others who are willing to pay to have it done. So he finds himself either taking the baby to work or leaving him in the care of his equally bewildered girlfriend, Olivia, whose job as a prostitute doesn’t bother Patrick in the least.

Taking care of a baby while working as a hitman isn’t a good mix, and the inevitable complications soon threaten to have Patrick and Olivia killed. The result is a fast-paced crime novel that’s both hilarious and hard-hitting, its main character both ruthless and oddly likable.

“I don’t care what you think,” Patrick said. “I deal with (ie kill) people when they break the rules. The rules of the street.

Bruton’s tight, colorful prose captures the idiosyncrasies of Irish English without ever leaving American readers behind, with every unfamiliar word made clear in the contest. And his hard-eyed portrayal of street life in Dublin is so vivid that readers can smell the streets and feel the cold rain on their faces.


Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award winner Bruce DeSilva is the author of Mulligan’s mystery novels, including “The Dread Line.”

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