By Chris Kelso
In 1888, Vincent Van Gough, having long admired the work of Paul Gaugin, invited him to his yellow house in the South of France for an autumn of painting and discussion. The meeting ended with Gaugin hastily absconding back to Arles and Van Gough lopping off his own ear. They say you should never meet your idols - investigative journalist and academic Eamonn O’Neil found this out the hard way.
In 1998 O’Neil tracked down fabled NYPD officer Frank Serpico in his remote cabin in upstate New York. Since famously testifying against systemic police corruption, Serpico was the subject of Sidney Lumet’s 1973 opus starring Al Pacino as the titular character. O’Neil travelled thousands of miles to write about him only to find that the man who’d become synonymous with honesty and integrity had become a victim of his own hype.
“I remember he really tested my patience, pushed me to the edge. I remember he kept imitating my Scots accent, which is funny for the first 300 seconds maybe. He was also incredibly vain. By the end of it I just wanted to put him flat out on the floor, he wound me up so much.”
The Strathclyde graduate has managed to use this awkward experience in his latest novel “The Last Court of Appeal”.
“I’m not sure if it was me, if I was too young and we just didn’t come together well, but the whole thing has shaped me into who I am now. With Tim Flannegan I tried to use different parts of people I know, he’s not just based on me. But all these experiences are learning curves, meeting Frank Serpico was definitely a significant one.”