A Thread of Violence

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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?

Advance praise

“In A Thread of Violence, Mark O’Connell has investigated, with immense skill and insight, the mind of a double murderer, and in the process has shown the essential mysteriousness of such a mind—perhaps of any mind. The result is a beautifully wrought narrative that is at once frightening and thrilling. A masterly work.”
John Banville, Booker Prize–winning author of The Sea and The Singularities

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, author of The Magician and New York Times bestseller Brooklyn

“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, New York Times bestselling author of Normal People

“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 gray area, from which he has brought a fascinating narrative.”
Emmanuel Carrère, internationally bestselling author of The Adversary

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, New York Times bestselling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

“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, New York Times bestselling author of We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland

“A ridiculously good book…. The effect on the reader is like being in the eye of a hurricane—terrifyingly calm—the moral vortex at the heart of breathtaking violence…. Totally stressful and addictive.”
Sam Knight, New Yorker staff writer and author of The Premonitions Bureau

“I read it at one sitting… The sensitivity of the work and the attention to language made this book one of the best of its kind.”
Dr. Gwen Adshead, forensic psychiatrist and author of The Devil You Know

“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, New Yorker staff writer and author of The Moth and the Mountain

“[A] true crime gem…. 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.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A vividly written account…. 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.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] dynamic, surprising, and utterly absorbing work of literary true crime… Readers will be powerless to stop, beguiled by the book’s powerful undercurrent.”
Booklist (starred review)

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