Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

Review by Brian Tanguay

Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond are not the kind of men you would invite for dinner. Were you to see them coming toward you on a dark street, you’d give them a wide berth. Even in their 50’s, well beyond their criminal prime, an aura of menace surrounds them, especially Charlie, who has undoubtedly committed acts of violence, possibly murder. 

It takes consummate skill to render the likes of Maurice and Charlie worthy of empathy, but Kevin Barry, author of the acclaimed novels Beatlebone and City of Bohane, accomplishes that feat in his latest work, Night Boat to Tangier. This is a tale of regret and friendship, love and loss, told in lyrical language only an Irish writer could summon. The dialogue between Maurice and Charlie snaps and sparkles, skips from profane to philosophical, as they recall their days running dope from Morocco. Money poured in for a time and life was grand. Maurice had Cynthia and a daughter, Dilly, but domestic life and drug smuggling are incompatible. It didn’t help that Cynthia and Charlie were having an affair. For that betrayal, Maurice stuck a knife in Charlie’s kneecap.  

The pair prowl the seedy Algeciras ferry terminal, looking for Dilly. They watch the incoming passengers, talk of things past, women and dogs, Ireland. Turns out that criminals have feelings, emotions, dreams, even hopes. Their humor may be of a gallows variety, but their humanity is undeniable. 

“Into the middle distance they train their stares. There is a stock of hard knowledge to be drawn on. They know what they had once and what was lost.”

Night Boat to Tangier is incandescent and incantatory, easily one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve ever had.