A Thread of Violence
by Mark O'Connell
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Pub Date 6 Jul 2023 | Archive Date Not set
What does it mean to write about a killer? From an award-winning author comes a tale of a notorious double-murder, a political scandal, and a writer who found himself entangled in this strange, true story.
In 1982 Malcolm Macarthur, the wealthy heir to a small estate, found himself suddenly without money. The solution, he decided, was to rob a bank. To do this, he would need a gun and a car. In the process of procuring them, he killed two people, and the circumstances of his eventual arrest in the apartment of Ireland's Attorney General nearly brought down the government. The case remains one of the most shocking in Ireland's history.
Mark O'Connell has long been haunted by the story of this brutal double murder. But in recent years this haunting has become mutual. When O'Connell sets out to unravel the mysteries still surrounding these horrific and inexplicable crimes, he tracks down Macarthur himself, now an elderly man living out his days in Dublin and reluctant to talk.
As the two men circle one another, O'Connell is pushed into a confrontation with his own narrative: what does it mean to write about a murderer?
‘Like all great books, A Thread of Violence is the document of a great writer's obsession. Mark O'Connell draws the reader into a deeply engrossing story, and at the same time into a complex investigation of human brutality and of narrative writing itself. This is a superb and unforgettable book’ Sally Rooney
‘A Thread of Violence is a masterful, haunting book by an author at the height of his powers. Mark O'Connell asks us how much we can ever understand about the darkness that resides in other people, and in ourselves’ Ed Caesar
‘A Thread of Violence stays with you for weeks. The eerie, tenuous relationship between journalist and killer lives in the legacy of Janet Malcolm and Truman Capote’ Caitlin Doughty
‘What can I say? I read it at one sitting, so gripping was the account of Mark’s conversations with a man who cannot call himself a murderer and yet killed two people utterly senselessly. This book raises fascinating ethical issues about writing about real events that have caused death and suffering to many; and the delicacy with which such a task must be approached. The sensitivity of the work and the attention to language made this book one of the best of its kind and an example to others of how to do it’ Dr Gwen Adshead
'A Thread of Violence is a ridiculously good book. The prose is apparently knowing and smooth; the subject is anything but. Malcolm Macarthur, an infamous, ageing double murderer, exists on every page, in almost every sentence, and yet recedes continually out of reach. The effect on the reader is like being in the eye of hurricane — terrifyingly calm — the moral vortex at the heart of breathtaking violence. O’Connell is in and out of his depth and the same time. I found the book totally stressful and addictive. At its best, it’s like watching dangerous dance, a folie á deux, between a deeply skilled and humane writer and a murderer with a high regard for his own etiquette. You want to chuck it across the room and then run after it and then carry on reading, as gripped as you were before' Sam Knight
'Mark O'Connell takes us on a deep dive into the most unfathomable depths of human nature. The awful killings that made Malcolm Macarthur Ireland's most notorious murderer are the thread he holds as he takes us into the labyrinth of the killer's mind. What we find there is an extraordinary weave of truths and fantasies, of abjection and self-delusion. Evil, in O'Connell's morally complex and mesmerising tale, is revealed as both banal and mysterious' Fintan O'Toole
'A Thread of Violence is nourished by a powerful moral intelligence and an enormous curiosity. Mark O'Connell circles the inner life of the murderer Malcolm Macarthur with subtlety and forensic care. As he seeks, in many interviews, to explore Macarthur's motives and sense of self, he becomes not only a great listener but a superb questioner, creating a narrative that is complex and disturbing as well as intriguing and compelling' Colm Toíbín
‘In the gallery of criminals who have fascinated writers, the elegant Malcolm Macarthur is one of the most enigmatic. And in the pantheon of writers fascinated by criminals, Mark O’Connell proves himself among the most brilliant. It is one of the boundaries that cut humanity in two: those who have killed someone, those who have not. O’Connell roams around this boundary, in this grey area, from which he has brought a fascinating narrative’ Emmanuel Carrère