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THE KILLER IN ME . . . Between the covers

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Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan is the leader of an elite crime unit of Dublin’s An Garda Síochána, known as The Bureau. She has been asked by her sister in law – who works for a human rights group called Justice Meets Justice – to look over the evidence and paperwork related to a horrific historic crime, where a teenager called Seán Hennessy was convicted of the savage murder of his mother and father, and the attempted murder of his young sister. Now, Hennessy has been released, and he is the latest cause célèbre for JMJ. Sheehan reluctantly agrees, but her attention is quickly diverted to a double murder.

TKIM coverTwo bodies have been found in a church in the well-to-do coastal suburb of Clontarf. The victims are identified as a local woman and her husband, but their deaths seem strangely disconnected. Geraldine Shine has been stabbed, but her husband Alan was strangled, has been dead for much longer, and his corpse shows every sign of having been kept in a freezer.

Sheehan and her colleague Detective Baz Harwood are pulled every which way by a murder investigation which becomes more complicated when another body is found. Conor Sheridan has been shot, again kept in a freezer, but this time displayed at the edge of the beach, up against Clontarf’s sea wall. While looking like a mass of disconnected but tangled threads, the various strands of evidence – the CCTV footage, the forensic data, the human connections – seem to defy the weaver’s comb which will straighten them into a recognisable pattern. When Sheehan gets a glimpse of what it all means, she realises with horror that it links to the Hennessy murders and, indirectly, to her own family.

Despite its grim subject matter, The Killer In Me is a thing of beauty. I have, sadly, never been to Dublin or spent serious time with Irish people, but Olivia Kiernan gives the dialogue, particularly when people are using the vernacular, a gentle lilt.

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Kiernan never lets us forget, however what savagery through which, via the eyes of Frankie Sheehan, we are wading. Her immediate boss, Assistant Commissioner Jack Clancy, gives her this sombre warning.

“Be careful with this, Frankie. Sometimes when you look into the mouth of that kind of evil, it’s hard to look away. You think, give it another few moments, your eyes will adjust, you’ll see the bottom of that darkness, understand it. It’s alluring. Addictive. And while you’re standing there rooted to the spot, you’re not noticing the fucking shadow is closing over you and you’re disappearing.”

olivia-kiernanI don’t know if Dublin Noir is ‘a thing’, but if it does exist, then The Killer In Me is its apotheosis. By the by, it is also a master-class in how to write a convincing police procedural. Sheehan shares her modus operandi when interviewing a reluctant suspect:

“We rely on a man’s capacity to always think the worst couldn’t happen. That no matter what they tell us, they will be okay. And because humans want to believe that, eventually they do begin to talk. And when they do, a tongue-tied perp can morph into a grand orator.”

Dark, complex, brutal but full of compassion, The Killer In Me is breathtakingly good. It is published by riverrun (a literary imprint of Quercus) and is available now in all formats.

 

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THE BOY WHO FELL . . . Between the covers

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TBWFThis is a chillingly clever whodunnit shot through with a caustic examination of life among the moneyed classes of contemporary Ireland, particularly Dublin’s nouveau riche and their over-indulged teenage children. Fans of Jo Spain’s DI Tom Reynolds will be overjoyed to see him return for his fifth case, and those who know the author only through her spellbinding standalone novels such as The Confession and Dirty Little Secrets should make up for lost time immediately!

Glenmore House has a dark reputation. A few years ago, a husband killed his wife and child with a kitchen knife before hanging himself. Since that trauma, the house has stood empty, slowly being reclaimed by nature. Unholy. Unvisited. Unloved. Except by a little clique of privately educated teenagers who use the place to smoke a little dope and drink a little alcohol. Well, OK, rather too much of both, but our story begins, like many another good yarn on One Dark Night ….

This particular dark night ends in tragedy, as after he and his friends indulge in some horseplay with an ouija board, young Luke Connolly plunges to his death from an upstairs window. The youngsters involved in the escapade are not, however, from some run down social housing estate, the victims of neglect, poor schooling and brutalised by deprivation. No, Luke, Charlotte, Hazel, Brian, Jacob and Dylan are all students at the prestigious and very expensive Little Leaf College and their parents, while possibly having more money than sense, are pillars of the community. But. And there is a rather large but in the person of Daniel Konaté Jones. Daniel is mixed race, has a ‘job’ as a DJ, and is tolerated by the group as something rather exotic, like a strange tropical orchid springing up in the herbaceous border . The police investigating the death are quick to arrest Daniel, and their case against him is sewn up with speed and, to mix metaphors, seen as tighter than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm.

Daniel is related to one of Tom Reynolds’ most respected officers, and when she asks him to take a look at the case, he reluctantly agrees. There are just one or two complications, though. First, Daniel is refusing to say anything – not a word – to investigating officers or his lawyer. Then, Reynolds becomes aware that Daniel is gay, and that, despite protestations from parents and friends, it appears that Danny and Luke were “an item.” Thirdly, the grief of Luke’s parents at his death has to run alongside the tragic demise of Luke’s twin brother Ethan, who is near death in a local hospice.

JSJo Spain is the literary Diva of Deviousness, and while we learn early in the piece that Glenmore House has a bloody history, she waits for some while before reconnecting the earlier slaughter with the death of Luke Connolly. When she does – and Reynolds realises the connection a paragraph or three before we do – the investigation takes on a whole new slant.

It should be a serious criminal offence for someone to write with the fluency, panache and skill at misdirection as Jo Spain, but while she remains a free woman, enjoy The Boy Who Fell. You will find beautiful prose, conundrums-a-plenty and enough of the dark side to satisfy any fan of Noir fiction. Regarding her portraits of people, I can only suggest that if Rembrandt had laid down his brushes and taken up the pen, he would be pushed to make his subjects as alive – with all their flaws – as she does. The Boy Who Fell is published by Quercus and will be available on 27th June.

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THE TRESPASSER …Between the covers

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AUTHOR TANA FRENCH beams us down into an endlessly wet, chill and foggy Dublin. The old working class district of Stoneybatter has become, so we are told elsewhere, the epitome of ‘cool’ with all the trappings which that entails – craft ales, artisan bakeries and community spaces. There’s little of that on display when DI Antoinette Conway and her partner Steve Moran are called to a terrace house to view the body of a dead woman. Aislinn Murray is on the floor by her fake rustic fireplace with severe head injuries. Conway says;

“Her face is covered by blond hair, straightened and sprayed so ferociously that even murder hasn’t managed to mess it up. She looks like Dead Barbie.”

Two things puzzle Conway and Moran. Firstly, who was the man who made the ‘phone call alerting the authorities to Aislinn’s demise, and why did he call direct to Stoneybatter police station, rather than using the emergency number? Secondly who was the dead woman’s intended dinner guest that evening? The table was laid for two, with candles lit and a bottle of decent red wine quietly breathing.

As Conway puts her team of ‘D’s’ – murder detectives – together, we learn that she has a prickly relationship with her fellow officers. Yes, she is a woman and, yes, the men’s laddish behaviour – nothing new to readers of novels featuring women detectives – is nastier than simple banter, but the dystopian atmosphere in the squad room is more complex. To be blunt, Conway is something of a pain in the arse at times. She has more chips on her shoulder than a bag of McCains (other brands are available), and the endless baiting and crass pranks from her male colleagues simply stoke the fires of bitterness. Having said that, she is an absolutely pin bright and razor sharp copper, but her fragile equanimity is not helped when her boss forces her to work alongside DI Breslin, a man she loathes. Breslin is glib, sharp-suited and much admired by the other D’s. In short, he is everything that Conway is not.

The consensus among the Gardaí is that the killer of Aislinn Murray is her latest boyfriend, an apparently mild-mannered bookshop owner called Rory Fallon, and he was  the intended beneficiary of the candle-lit dinner in the Stoneybatter cottage. From the moment Conway clapped eyes on the Aislinn’s ruined face, however, she is tantalised by a feeling that she has seen the girl before. When that memory clicks into place, the investigation takes a different turn entirely, and it turns over a large rock which has many nasty creatures scuttling around underneath it.

To say that The Trespasser is a police procedural is, strictly speaking, accurate. But the description does the book justice in the same way that simply describing Luciano Pavarotti as a singer fails to illuminate the central truth. Tana French knows her Dublin, and she knows her An Garda Síochána, but those dabs of authenticity are just that – mere paint spots on a subtle, complex and magnificent canvas.

I suppose I must have drawn breath during the five or six minutes it took to read the gripping climax of this book, but I don’t remember doing so. The final pages contain no action to speak of, just four people sitting in an office, but the psychological intensity is quite terrifying. The quality of the writing is such that French does not allow Conway to luxuriate in her victory, such as it is. There is just a terrible sense of pity, of shattered lives, and human frailty. Conway walks away from the police station:

“The cobblestones feel wrong under my feet, thin skins of stone over bottomless fog. The squad I’ve spent the last two years hating, the sniggering fucktards backstabbing the solo warrior while she fought her doomed battle; that’s gone, peeled away like a smeared film that was stuck down hard over the real thing.”

This is a brilliant, savage and uncomfortable read. Don’t pick it up unless you want your emotions scoured and your sense of empathy and compassion put through the mangle.

Tana French has her own website, and you can follow the link to check buying choices for The Trespasser, which is available now.

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