Once again the Raven’s black heart is gladdened slightly by the arrival of a distinctive new voice in the realm of crime fiction. Alone With The Dead is the intriguing and unsettling debut that introduces us to rookie copper PC Donal Lynch, finding his way in his tough, new, chosen profession, but not without a few stumbling blocks in his path. Donal has turned his back on his native home of Ireland, after his ex-girlfriend is convicted of murder. Finding himself employed in a seedy Irish pub frequented by equally seedy and slightly dubious coppers, Donal makes a massive career change, and joins the boys in blue. But Lynch is not all he seems, and thanks to his propensity for seeing dead people, akin to the creepy kid in The Sixth Sense, his involvement in a brutal murder investigation, brings something a little different to your normal cut-out copper. Finding himself manipulated by his brother Fintan, an ambitious news reporter, his mercurial superior officer, ‘Shep’, and susceptible to the comely charms of a certain damsel in distress, Lynch more than has his work cut out…
As a police procedural and the depiction of a keen young officer’s need to climb the career ladder, it worked superbly well. The central murder investigation was brilliantly structured, with a few nifty red herrings, and a surprising denouement, and the attention to forensic detail and the natural progression of a police investigation felt very authentic throughout. Likewise, Nally’s characterisation of Donal, Shep and Fintan, and the alternate loyalty and aggravation that colours their relationship was well played out. This was bolstered further by the real stand-out aspect of Nally’s writing- his use of humour. Few books make the Raven guffaw out loud, but this one did. There are some truly wicked, killer one-liners in this book, that brought a real splash of lightness, to what in other hands could have been a laboured and quite dark police procedural. The depiction of wet-behind-the-ears Donal, his weird pyschiatric nurse housemate Aidan (more of him in the next one please), Donal’s brother Fintan, and the Dick Dastardly figure of Donal’s boss Shep, were all underscored by a series of cutting asides and witticisms that consistently worked, adding a nice line in graveyard humour to the whole affair.
However, in the spirit of honesty, and appreciating the author’s need to bring something different to a well-trod sub genre, I did find this a little bit a game of two halves. I just didn’t quite buy the whole ‘I see dead people’ thing in relation to Donal’s character. I thought it was an unnecessary distraction at points from what was a perfectly well-crafted, intriguing, and well-characterised crime thriller. The central murder storyline, the echo of past events, his navigation of the office politics in his chosen career, and a side plot showing his involvement with a woman in an abusive relationship, weighted the plot perfectly. As interesting as the details were about the clinical possibilities of Donal’s ‘special gift’ to commune with the dead, I found it frustrating that such a well-constructed story, with all the necessary features to ensure a successful series, had to bring this trope into play. I did feel that that the need to return to the more ‘spooky’ element of the story was to the detriment and balance of the sub plots involving Eve, Donal’s ex-girlfriend and the abused Gabby, and felt it left them a little rushed or partially unresolved. It really didn’t need it, as the strength of Nally’s writing outside of this strange diversion was more than satisfying, and all of his characters resonated brilliantly within the main plot. Overall though, I would be more than happy to read the next in the series, so even allowing for my grumbles, Nally has come up trumps in my book. Recommended.
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