A thread of violence A story of truth, invention, and murder

Mark O'Connell, 1979-

Book - 2023

"From the award-winning author comes a gripping account of one of the most scandalous murder in modern Irish history, at once a propulsive work of true crime and an act of literary subversion. Malcolm MacArthur was a well-known Dublin socialite and heir. Suave and urbane, he passed his days mingling with artists and aristocrats, reading philosophy, living a life of the mind. But by 1982, his inheritance had dwindled to almost nothing, a desperate threat to his lifestyle. MacArthur hastily c...onceived a plan: He would commit bank robbery, of the kind that had become frightfully common in Dublin at the time. But his plan spun swiftly out of control, and he needlessly killed two innocent people. The ensuing manhunt, arrest, and conviction amounted to one of the most infamous political scandals in modern Irish history, contributing to the eventual collapse of a government. Wellcome and Rooney Prize-winning author Mark O'Connell spent countless hours in conversation with MacArthur--interviews that veered from confession to evasion. Through their tense exchanges and O'Connell's independent reporting, a pair of narratives unspools: a riveting account of MacArthur's crimes and a study of the hazy line between truth and invention. We come to see not only the enormity of the murders but the damage that's inflicted when a life is rendered into story. At once propulsive and searching, A Thread of Violence is a hard look at a brutal act, its subterranean origins, and the long shadow it casts. It offers a haunting and insightful examination of the lies we tell ourselves--and the lengths we'll go to preserve them"--

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2nd Floor New Shelf 364.1523/O'Connell (NEW SHELF) Due Oct 4, 2023
True crime stories
New York : Doubleday [2023]
First edition
Physical Description
288 pages ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 279-288).
Main Author
Mark O'Connell, 1979- (author)
  • Part one: Is this for real?
  • Part two: A thread of violence
  • Part three: The criminal episode
  • Part four: Grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, and unprecedented
  • Part five: Monstered.
Review by Booklist Review

Down-on-his-luck Dublin socialite Malcolm Macarthur's senseless murders of two strangers in 1982, when author O'Connell was a child, has long been an object of national and personal fascination. Macarthur's capture following his crimes took place close to O'Connell's grandparents' home. Pursuing a PhD decades later, O'Connell studied the works of John Banville, whose "patrician loafer" protagonist Freddie Montgomery was based on Macarthur. In fact and fiction, Banville circled Macarthur, and for this dynamic, surprising, and utterly absorbing work of literary true crime, O'Connell (Notes from an Apocalypse, 2020) circled Macarthur, quite literally, in the years following his 2012 release from prison, until they met and Macarthur agreed to several conversations for this book. Relating Macarthur's crimes and everything written about them, obsessing over details true and imagined, O'Connell compares himself to "a prospector who had struck a rich vein of crude oil." He is, in other words, absolutely in on the exploitation of his exercise, and our role in reading it. Alas, readers will be powerless to stop, beguiled by the book's powerful undercurrent: a deliberation over how we spend our lives trying to make all-encompassing, narrative sense of them, all the while dogged by the limitations of both reality and our imaginations.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this true crime gem, journalist O'Connell (Notes from an Apocalypse) recounts a year he spent interviewing one of Ireland's most notorious killers. Socialite Malcolm Macarthur came from landed gentry: confidants described him as unfailingly polite and fond of silk bow ties. But in 1982, with his inheritance dwindling, he planned to rob a bank and murdered two people in pursuit of a car and a gun for the task. After pleading guilty, making headlines, and serving almost 30 years in prison, Macarthur was released and went on to a quiet life in Dublin. O'Connell manages a fascinating portrait of his deliberately elusive subject: "There were places he would much rather have been, but he had done what he had done," he writes of Macarthur's attitude toward his time in prison. "The murder had, in a sense, originated in his refusal to relinquish a life of leisurely learning and reading;... in incarceration, he had found something strangely like this freedom." Swirling together dogged reporting with questions about the media's coverage of crime, O'Connell manages a gripping account that casts a skeptical eye on its own genre. Even readers put off by profiles of killers will be piqued. Agent: Amelia Atlas, ICM. (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

A vividly written account of the author's encounters with one of Ireland's most notorious murderers. In 1982, Malcolm Macarthur, an idle member of Ireland's once-landed gentry, mortally wounded a young nurse while stealing her car, then called on a farmer who had a shotgun for sale, killed him with his own weapon, and drove off in his car. Improbably, he then holed up in the home of Ireland's attorney general, a friend. He was finally found and arrested, yielding a multilevel scandal. "The people of Dublin know this story well," writes O'Connell, author of Notes From an Apocalypse. "But we know it only as a story….He pleaded guilty, and so no evidence was heard in court." The story took a different turn when John Banville, the subject of O'Connell's doctoral dissertation in literature, wrote a novel that borrowed liberally from the Macarthur case. O'Connell not only studied Banville, but also decided to find the recently paroled Macarthur--who bore a striking resemblance to the novelist--to hear his side of the story. It wasn't easy to find the killer, but finally, "very tentatively and politely," O'Connell was able to approach him. Thus began a quest for understanding that, while not exactly cat and mouse, was a study in misdirection and vague asides, leading the interviewer to early despair: "As soon as I begin to see him, as soon as I believe I have grasped him as a subject, he slips away into darkness, and I know no more, and perhaps even less, than I did to begin with." Erudite, seemingly emotionless, haughty, absolutely unrepentant, and elusive, Macarthur evaded easy analysis. The resulting picture of the killer is seen as if through a proverbial dark glass--and it's as chilling, in the end, as any Hitchcock film. A superb study of real-life crime and punishment, to say nothing of sociopathy in action. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.