It was a fun gig for a while, him and his mates beating old pensioners for their purse or wallet then splitting the take on cider, pot (or as they confusingly call it in Northern Ireland, “blow”) and cigarettes, but now the gang is getting too infamous and he’s hit a growth spurt, making it harder for him to blend in with his fellow gang members. Leaving or not, Steven McVeigh has made it his life’s mission to take back his West Belfast neighborhood from the Rockets and Joe Phillips is his only lead. So when Joe wakes up one morning to find McVeigh’s been fucking his mom, he knows he’s far from in the clear.
Wee Rockets may be about middle school delinquents fucking shit up, but Wee Rockets is anything but juvenile. (I both love that line and want to punch myself in the balls for writing it at the same time.) Gerard Brennan’s novel is so assured and mature you’d think this was his eight or ninth book, not one of his first. Brennan lets his deep cast of complex characters take the novel where their emotions and motivations want it to go, making for an organic-feeling yet never even remotely predictable story. Wee Rockets has all the double-crosses and violence you expect from a great crime read, yet never that feeling of in-authenticity or archness that most thrillers are steeped in.
In addition to the strong characters and storytelling, it’s also a helluva social novel, depicting youth gang culture in a way that offers no easy answers as to what makes one kid bad and another decent, while also managing to not get all soap-box-y on your ass either. Brennan also sneaks some shit in there about crime pre- and post-Troubles in Belfast that also doesn’t bog down the pace of the story or perspective of the characters as well. Because though the Nerd may be talking in hoidy-toidy terms quite a bit with this review, Wee Rockets is a helluva a lot of fun as well, full of the dark humor and nasty surprises that the basement noir junkies like myself need to make the medicine go down.
With this novel Gerard Brennan has shown himself to be a writer to watch out for, a natural storyteller with a strong voice, a knack for character development, and an enviable fucking sandbox in his West Belfast setting to let those skills loose in. Here’s hoping he lets us over to see what castles he’s built in there again toot-fucking-sweet.