He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”
There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile
He made a crooked deal and he blew a crooked pile
He dug a crooked hole
And he sank the crooked isle
And they all went to hell in a stew of crooked bile.
The Devil I Know is the story of Ireland’s boom and bust, told from the perspective of Tristram St Lawrence, thirteenth Earl of Howth, as he gives evidence before a tribunal (we do love a good tribunal in Ireland) on his involvement in some dirty property deals.
I was slightly torn on whether I wanted to read this book. On the one hand it sounded interesting and came highly recommended to me, but on the other hand I feared it could be a bit depressing. Economic collapse not exactly the happiest topic in the world.
I was impressed by Kilroy’s depth of research and knowledge. Her knowledge of the development process, and the tax reliefs developers used seemed accurate and realistic (I should state that I work in the construction sector though I wasn’t in 2006). I would have slight issues with the methods of achieving a rezoning of the land or a realignment of the some important infrastructure, as I’m not convinced it would have been possible in 2006. 1996 maybe. It seems like something from the Mahon/Flood Tribunal era. It is a convenient literary device though, and certainly “brown envelopes” (which have got to be the two dirtiest words in Ireland) is what comes to people’s mind when they think of doggy development deals. This is a technicality though and doesn’t take away from the book in any way.
The representation of the characters involved; Hickey, the slightly gormless builder turned developer who saw an opportunity to play with the big boys, the Golden Circle of bankers, “entrepreneurs” and politicians, wreckless gamblers searching for their next fix, are astute and reflect everything we now know (Anglo Irish tapes anyone). Tristram I can’t make my mind up about. The book is told from his perspective. He portrays himself as the merely a conduit, a facilitator, between Monsieur Deauville and Hickey. A man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got swept along by events. I’m sure there are many who would try claim the same. It’s almost as if he is trying to shirk responsibility. He had concerns about some their deals, but no one was listening. Yet it is clear he also feels guilty for the part he played, whatever he may consider that part to be, and wishes to see justice done. The result is I can’t decide whether I revile him or feel sorry for him.
For a topic which could be extremely depressing, and considering the truth is still only being discovered, it is an engaging and not at all depressing read which sheds a disturbingly accurate light on Ireland’s recent past. I would highly recommend it to all.