We've come across some unattractive central characters in novels in our time, but Red Dock was right up there for the award of the worst. That was until we met Picasso, the second main character of "Blood for Blood", a mass-murderer who emerges as the story advances and whose predilection for turning his young female victims into sick "works of art" brought back to mind another contender, Patrick Bateman, the central character of Bret Easton Ellis's "American Psycho". Which of the three is worst? That's a little like asking whether bubonic plague is worse than smallpox or vice versa.
"Blood for Blood" by J.M. Smyth is not a pleasant read, but it is a gripping and darkly compelling one. Red Dock is damaged goods. He has survived years of appalling abuse at the Irish orphanage he grew up in, and at the age of nine he witnessed the murder of his twin brother by a Christian Brother. Red has spent most of his life in the single-minded pursuit of revenge against everyone he holds responsible for his childhood and for the death of his brother, and he has no qualms about anyone else getting killed in the process. Red is playing a very long game. First he kidnaps a policeman's daughter and abandons her to be brought up in a care home like the one in which he lost his childhood and his brother. Then, after a twenty year wait, he puts into effect the rest of his scheme.
Things begin to get really complicated when Picasso, in search of more victims, unknowingly intervenes in Red's plans. We see the interactions that follow from the perspectives of both Red and Picasso, and that of Picasso's latest intended victim, and the result leaves the reader torn between gasping for air and compulsively turning each page to find out what happens next. Though we witness Red putting each step of his scheme into effect, much of the compulsion to continue reading comes from a desire to find out just how his revenge is intended to play out. Much of the rest revolves around the desire to discover whether he will succeed, or whether he and Picasso will trip one another up; and what will become of the young woman who is central to both their plans.