Literary Fiction

Night Boat to Tangier – Kevin Barry (by Peter)

15 June 2019
Night Boat to Tangier Book Cover Night Boat to Tangier
Kevin Barry
Canongate Books
June 20, 2019

It's late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder - can it be put together again?Night Boat to Tangier is a novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic, but it is obsessed, above all, with the mysteries of love. A tragicomic masterwork from a multi-award-winning writer, Night Boat to Tangier is both mordant and hilarious, lyrical yet laden with menace.


Night Boat to Tangier is a powerful and expressive novel with fascinating characters that have corrupted and harmed themselves and those around them. Kevin Barry’s unforgiving poetic style nails the moments that linger in the mind well after the words are gone. 

Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond are two ageing, disfigured, Irish gangsters, waiting in a lifeless ferry terminal in Algeciras. They are waiting for Maurice’s daughter, Dilly, whom he hasn’t seen in 3 years. She will reportedly leave or arrive on a boat from Tangier within the next 24 hours. “Now the hours melt one into the other at the port of Algeciras. For the fading Irish gangsters, the long wait continues.” Life is a series of memories and as they wait for Dilly they reflect on their past, and flashbacks take us to their lives fuelled with sex, drugs, crime, alcohol, sex and drugs.

“They were hammering into the Powers, the John Jameson, it was breakfast from the bottle and elevenses off the mirror. The child would as well be raised by the cats that sat lazily in what April sun troubled itself to come across the rooftops of Berehaven.”

As drug dealers they made money, as poor investors, and a wasteful life, they lost money. Haunting, Irish, Bad Luck, mythical forces have been disturbed as Maurice tried to excavate a fairy mound during a building project. Not a bit of wonder his life has gone to shite. He lost the only woman he ever loved, Cynthia – Dilly’s mother, and his memories of her torture his waking and sleeping moments. He knew he was bad for her but he also truly loved her too much to completely let go. As we get to know their demons and failings and the reason Dilly left, do Maurice and Charlie deserve our empathy or forgiveness as our judgement gets blurred – seeing the softer side of violent men? 

Kevin Barry is such an exceptional author, with writing to be relished for its striking eloquence and absorbing depth. The harsh dialogue and caustic history of Maurice and Charlie is so stunningly portrayed that your own imagination causes you to gasp and shudder. His books are shorter than average but contain meaning that would take books 3 times the length to achieve.

I would highly recommend this book and I’d like to thank Canongate and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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