There are few grander places in Dublin’s fair city than Leinster House, even though its style and grandeur might hark back to the days when the Irish aristocracy – with its links to England – were a power in the land. Whether the current inhabitants of the ducal mansion do its stately rooms and grand corridors proud is not for me to judge, for it houses Oireachtas Éireann, the parliament of the Irish Republic. There must have been a whole lexicon of killing words uttered between political opponents over the decades, but few – if any – actual murders have despoiled the Georgian grandeur. Jo Spain puts this right within the first few pages of Beneath The Surface.
Ryan Finnegan, a parliamentary aide to an ambitious government minister, is found shot dead, lying at the feet of a loftily oblivious stone angel in one of the labyrinthine corridors beneath Leinster House. Enter Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds of An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force. Jo Spain introduced us to Reynolds and his team in her 2015 hit debut With Our Blessing. There, Reynolds was wading through a morass of guilty secrets engendered by the Roman Catholic church and the Magdalene Laundries scandal, but now he is in a place where straight talking is equally hard to find – the upper echelons of government.
Beneath Finnegan’s body is a computer printout. It isn’t just any old piece of A4, however. It’s an image of Finnegan’s boss, cabinet minister Aidan Blake, in what used to be euphemised as “a compromising position”. When the police tech boys search the right hard drives, they find more photos from the same album. If the images were being tagged on social media, the content might include #gaysex #rentboys #cocaine #thailand.
Reynolds has more suspects than he can deal with, and even when he applies the time-honoured question Cui Bono? there is something of a queue. How about the icily calm Danish businessman Carl Madsen whose gas exploration firm stands to gain from preferential treatment in the new resources bill? Can we trust Darragh McNally, the Chairman of the governing Reform Party, and a man whose singular devotion to his party – and his mother – sets alarm bells ringing? And is the Taoiseach himself above suspicion?
As in all the best CriFi novels, there is a dramatic finale with half a dozen possible outcomes. Jo Spain walks us through this, and cleverly switches narrator just at the crucial moment. I was hooked by this excellent novel within the first few pages. Yes, it’s a police procedural, but it succeeds so many other levels. Jo Spain has a very deft hand when dealing with personal relationships, and she lets us be a fly on the wall in many encounters, most memorably those between Tom Reynolds and his long-suffering wife, Louise.
The widowed Kathryn Finnegan and her baby daughter Beth are beautifully described, and my reputation as a man with a heart of stone was severely tested when I came to the scene where they visit Ryan’s grave. Reynold’s boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Sean McGuiness has a gracious wife, June, well used to hosting dinner parties, and playing The Good Wife with her husband’s associates, but her sad slide into the living hell of dementia is described with great subtlety and compassion, but not without dramatic effect.
Beneath The Surface has pushed its way into my Top Five novels of 2016, and I will be scanning the horizon for the first sight of the next Tom Reynolds story.