I’m always delighted on discovering some cracking new Irish crime fiction and neither of these disappointed. Covering both Northern Ireland and Eire between them, I’m sure any fan of this genre will enjoy either or both. So read on…
MARK O’SULLIVAN- CROCODILE TEARS
In the freezing winter of 2010, with the Irish recession in full flow, property tycoon Dermot Brennan is found dead at his Dublin home. Leading the murder investigation is fifty-six-year-old Detective Inspector Leo Woods, an embittered former UN peacekeeper with a drug habit, a penchant for collecting masks and a face disfigured by Bell’s Palsy. DI Woods meets his match in Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, a bright and ambitious but impetuous young policewoman with a troubled family. A host of suspects quickly emerge – Brennan’s estranged son; two of the dead man’s former business associates with grudges against him; a young man whose life was ruined after his house, built by Brennan, was flooded; an arrogant sculptor who may or may not have been having an affair with Anna Brennan (and with their neighbour); and an ex-pat American gardener. Together, Woods and Troy weave their way through this tangled web to get to the shocking truth.
I was incredibly impressed with this inaugural crime offering from Mark O’ Sullivan (perhaps better known as a children’s fiction writer and author of Enright- a fiction novel) and aside from a couple of breaks for coffee, this was pretty much one of those read in one sitting books. Veering more towards literary crime fiction, O’Sullivan’s creation , DI Leo Woods is an absolute gem of a character. Afflicted by a condition known as Bell’s Palsy, Woods is both self-deprecating and a shrewd judge of human nature, accrued through his study of people’s reactions to this perplexing condition. I know crime authors always strive to imbue their detectives with an original quirk to their character, and yes, I did raise an eyebrow at this one, but it works magnificently well in the make-up of Woods’ moral and physical character. Woods is also imbued with a positively Ken Bruen-esque wit, that had me chortling out loud throughout the book, helping to relieve the perfectly wrought tension of the central murder investigation- a murder investigation that is well played out and convincing within the narrative. Woods is a truly multi-layered character, not only shaped by his physical condition but also by previous events from his service in the Balkans and what he witnessed there and a real strength of the book is watching the interplay with him and his colleagues, along with those he investigates. An exceptionally good crime novel all round and I am very much looking forward to encountering DI Woods again.
Mark O’ Sullivan is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including two Reading Association of Ireland Awards, the Eilís Dillon Award and three Bisto Merit Awards. He has also received the Prix des Loisirs as well as two White Raven Book Awards. In addition he has written radio drama for RTE and contributed to Lyric FM’s Quiet Corner.
MATT MCGUIRE- DARK DAWN (DS O’NEILL 1)
Belfast. January 2005. Acting Detective Sergeant John O’Neill stands over the body of a dead teenager. The corpse was discovered on the building site of a luxury development overlooking the River Lagan. Kneecapped then killed, the body bears the hallmarks of a punishment beating. But this is the new Northern Ireland – the Celtic Tiger purrs, the Troubles are over, the paramilitaries are gone. So who is the boy? Why was he killed? O’Neill quickly realises that no one cares who the kid is – his colleagues, the politicians, the press – making this case one of the toughest yet. And he needs to crack this one, his first job as Principle Investigator, or he risks ending up back in uniform. Disliked by the Chief Inspector and with his current rank yet to be ratified, O’Neill is in a precarious position.
Matt McGuire’s debut crime thriller is definitely worth seeking out, particularly if you like authors such as Stuart Neville or the style of Brian McGilloway. The focus of this tale is Belfast, as McGuire skilfully depicts a city playing catch-up in its regeneration (in comparison to say Liverpool or Newcastle), but just below the surface there lurks the shadow of the Troubles and the less salubrious world of drug dealers, financial corruption and vigilantism. From the opening image of a young man’s body lying on a desolate piece of wasteland, you know from the outset that this will be a grim tale of the sordid underbelly of a city dying to reinvent itself and McGuire captures this perfectly throughout. His central detective Acting DS John O’Neill is both credible and intriguing, as he is in the unenviable position of being saddled with a difficult murder investigation in order to prove his worth to his superiors, who have a derogatory view of him personally. As the investigation branches out, O’Neill finds himself in deeper trouble, threatening both him and the possibility of progressing in his career. I found little to fault in terms of location, characterisation and, most importantly, plotting and Dark Dawn held my attention throughout revealing itself as a solid police procedural that truly reflected the problems of Belfast society and the danger of disaffected youths looking to make a less than honest living, whilst always retaining a look backwards as to how these problems have developed. A great debut and an author to watch…
Matt McGuire was born in Belfast and taught at the University of Glasgow before becoming an English lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He has published widely on various aspects of contemporary literature and is currently writing a book on Scottish crime fiction.
(With thanks to Transworld Ireland and Constable Robinson for the ARCs)