Annemarie Neary- Siren

b2c884_18036d56c0324f78b3cd43bcd5d3f4b8Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth. Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

With jacket quotes from the brilliant  Stuart Neville and  Liz Nugent and the promise of being a stand out addition to the Irish crime genre, the lure of Siren was irresistible to this reviewer…

I was astounded by the incredible balance of narrative, location and characterisation throughout this impressive debut novel from Neary, with all aspects of the book working in complete harmony with one another. No mean feat for a new writer, and showing a degree of skill that some writers take more than a few books to achieve. Set against the reverberating echo of The Troubles, one of the most contentious and defining conflicts of the twentieth century, Neary has constructed a tale that effortlessly intertwines a present and past timeline that slowly uncoils revealing small nuggets of bitter truths, as the reader progresses through Róisín’s compelling and thought provoking story.

As Róisín embarks on her personal mission of retribution, the violent and emotive details of her involvement in a honey trap in her teenage years, resulting in the murder of two soldiers slowly unfolds. Neary demonstrates through her portrayal of Róisín’s adolescent years the prescient dangers and threats of danger that overshadowed the lives of many in Belfast in this tumultuous period, and the skeletons in the closet of Róisín’s family itself. Likewise, the simmering rage and desire for revenge that Róisín harbours for Lonergan himself is never far from the surface, and which reveals itself in a series of flashbacks to his manipulation of her in previous events. Róisín is a wonderfully well-drawn character, and contains a mass of contradictions, as she gravitates between clear-sighted belief in her actions, underscored by moments of incredible sensitivity and self doubt. If ever a character was written to elicit empathy in the reader, Neary has this pretty much spot on, as Róisín is never less than a totally believable and sympathetic character. To further draw on the characterisation of this book, I loved the way that was a certain shadowy pall around the male protagonists, as Neary never really gives the reader a complete picture of their motivations, choosing to keep them to a larger degree, slightly shrouded from our unflinching gaze. If this was a deliberate move on the author’s part it was a wise one as this incompleteness to their definition added a further level of menace to them and their interactions with Róisín herself. Also choosing to set the contemporary story on the grim outcrop of Lamb Island, instead of keeping the action centred in Belfast itself, worked very well. The air of impending violence and fear that Róisín experiences is heightened substantially by the bleakness of the surrounding island landscape, and the isolation of her temporary abode on the island from where she embarks on her vengeful mission.

I was incredibly impressed with this debut, with its pitch perfect mix of extreme human emotions, combined with the resonance of history. Neary has achieved something really quite special. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)

Special Feature- Irish Crime Fiction Round-Up

In recognition of the saturation coverage of the vote for independence in Scotland, I thought now is the time for a special feature. On Irish crime. I like to be different. I have recently read the latest releases from three authors I have reviewed in the last year. Mark O’Sullivan, whose debut novel Crocodile Tears featured the utterly engaging DI Leo Woods; Matt McGuire with his striking Belfast set police procedural Dark Dawn , and Louise Phillips’ intriguing psychological thriller The Doll’s House So without further ado, feast your criminal eyes on these…

Mark O’Sullivan- Sleeping Dogs

slGangland boss Harry Larkin has taken three bullets and lies dying in a Dublin hospital. Amongst his delusional ravings to Senior Ward Nurse Eveleen Morgan, one name stands out: Detective Inspector Leo Woods. Harry’s message for his old ‘friend’ Leo: find my daughter Whitney. Leo is drawn into the murky world of the Larkin family, a hell he thought he had escaped from thirty years earlier. With the help of Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, his search for Whitney turns up more questions than answers, more darkness than light…

O’ Sullivan’s debut novel Crocodile Tears made a strong impression on me last year and snapped at the heels of my final selection of the Top 5 crime reads of 2013. Introducing the slightly curmudgeonly and many-layered police officer DI Woods, I was struck by how O’Sullivan circumvented the normal bog-standard police procedural with his attention to characterisation and the more literary quality to his prose throughout. Sleeping Dogs has done little to undermine my initial favourable impressions of his writing, once again giving rise to an extremely character-driven story, centred on the investigation of the shooting of local figure Harry Larkin. Ultimately, the whys and wherefores of this shooting is of little importance in the book, as the cast of characters on both sides of the investigation provide the real strength of the book. With the connection between DI Woods and Larkin established by their interactions some 30 years previously at the height of the Troubles, Woods is caught offguard by Larkin’s dying entreaties to find his missing daughter. What transpires is an extremely engaging tale of dark family secrets and lies, where the truth is hard to find, causing Woods and his team to embark on a tricky and at times heart wrenching investigation. Add into the mix an intriguing side plot involving a Libyan intern, and his connection to Larkin’s missing daughter Whitney, a mixed-up kid troubled by the dark goings-on close to home and O’Sullivan neatly enfolds us into a plot full of red herrings and partial truths. Woods is as appealing as in the first, embarking on a touching romantic interlude, but in the footsteps of the lovelorn Inspector Morse, doomed to disappointment. His predominant sidekick DS Helen Troy, provides not only a credible female detective, but is a good sounding board for the more intense Woods, and the interplay between them is also an added point of enjoyment throughout. A great follow up to a strong debut,  and definitely a series to be added to your must read lists.

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- When Sorrows Come

9781780338323Belfast, 2am, Tomb Street. A young man lies dead in an alley. Cracked ribs, broken jaw, fractured skull. With the Celtic Tiger purring and the Troubles in their death throes, Detective Sergeant John O’Neill is called to investigate. Meanwhile O’Neill’s partner, DI Jack Ward, a veteran troubles detective, is receiving death threats from an unknown source…

Having quickly established a well deserved place alongside the likes of Brian McGilloway and Declan Hughes, McGuire returns with the second in his police procedural series featuring DS John O’Neill. In common with his debut, Dark Dawn, McGuire pulls no punches in his depiction of the violence lurking just beneath the surface of Belfast, a city undergoing change and growing prosperity but still grappling with the imprint of its bloody history. To all intents and purposes, When Sorrows Comes does revisit some of the original tenets of the first book in terms of the social and well established facts of Ireland’s political history, as the investigation plays out. However, the further establishment of DS O’Neill’s character lifts the plot from the fairly pedestrian to greater interest, as he grapples with the demands on his personal and professional life. Still attracting the displeasure of his superiors by his more renegade actions and detection techniques and general unwillingness to tow the line, O’Neill combines a good mix of stubborness and empathy, whilst retaining a fixed resolution to follow the course of justice. His personal life is messy- in common with many of the best detectives- and our sympathies with him in this area of his life are pulled this way and that as the softer side of his character comes to the surface in the increasingly hostile interactions with his estranged wife, Catherine and his relationship with his daughter Sarah. An enjoyable follow up to the first in the series, if a little too similar, but well worth a look for police procedural fans.

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.

Louise Philips- Last Kiss

10406581_676106955792842_8923423451031752354_nIn a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home. In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck. But what connects them? When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?

I must confess with the absolute glut of female psychological thriller writers currently inhabiting the genre, my recent reading in this genre has been an up and down affair. However, building on the success of both Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House, Phillips has earned a steadfast place in my list of favoured writers. Once again placing the likeable and engaging  criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson in league with the grizzled and world weary DI O’Connor, there is again time for Phillips to play with the dynamics of their relationship, as they are pitted against a sadistic murderer and a far reaching investigation. What quickly transpires is that the killer they seek has killed before, and has no compunction in killing again…and again. This is a difficult review to write as I am not going to dwell on plot, purely because this is such a chilling and twisting investigation that I am desperate to avoid spoilers. Needless, to say I loved the little false alleys that Phillips leads us up in the course of the book and although I guessed the identity of the killer (more through fluke I believe) , which is beautifully concealed, there was no way I saw that ending coming. It’s dark, devious and totally gripping with interesting and engaging central characters, a good use of the contrasting locations, and more slippery than an eel covered in Vaseline. Thanks to Phillips for restoring my faith in the psychological thriller, and in some style.

Louise Phillips’ debut psychological crime novel, RED RIBBONS, went straight to the BEST SELLERS listing in the first week of its release in Sept 2012, and has received phenomenal reviews. In 2009, Louise won the Jonathan Swift Award, and in April 2011, was the winner of The Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform,as well as being short-listed for Bridport UK, the Molly Keane Memorial Award, and the Penguin/RTÉ Guide Short Story Competition. In 2012, Louise Phillips, was awarded an ART BURSARY for Literature from her home city of Dublin. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS, was shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year (2012). Visit her website – www.louise-phillips.com , www.facebook.co/LouisePhillips Follow on Twitter @LouiseMPhillips

 

(With thanks to Transworld Ireland, Constable and Robinson and Hachette Books Ireland respectively for the ARCs)