Sunday 23 July 2017

Blake returns with solid second outing for crimebuster Cat Connolly

Crime: In Deep Water, Sam Blake, Zaffre, €14.99

Hilary A White

Any crime protagonist worth their salt is going to have an aching Achilles heel eating away at them while their mind is struggling to prise open a complex case.

So it is with Detective Garda Cathy "Cat" Connolly, who is still recovering from the explosive - in more ways than one - finale to Sam Blake's 2016 debut, Little Bones.

Sam Blake is, of course, the pen name of Vanessa O'Loughlin - the UK-born founder of both the Inkwell Group publishing consultants and Writing.ie who has called Wicklow her home for most of her adult life.

In Deep Water is as thoroughly researched as its predecessor (O'Loughlin's husband is a retired member of An Garda Siochana and for the book she consulted colleagues of his on much of the fine detail), and it is the perfect species of police-procedural page-turner that beach towels cry out for around about this time of year.

The events of Little Bones (which charted at No.1 and received a nomination in the crime category of last year's Irish Book Awards) have left Detective Garda Cathy Connolly physically and emotionally bruised. O'Loughlin deftly brings the uninitiated up to speed in the opening chapters, as Cathy is burdened even further with an investigative crisis close to home.

Her close friend Sarah Jane has disappeared as if into thin air. A beautiful and determined journalism student desperate to emulate her Pulitzer-winning father, Sarah Jane had been snooping into something that had brought her into harm's way.

Grainy CCTV footage, an attractive interpreter, a shifty restaurant owner and a house of ill repute, called the Paradise Club, swirl gradually into Cathy's focus as she tries to dispel fatigue, "hopping hormones" and worry for her friend out of her mind so that her strong instincts can work unencumbered.

The plotted maps of South Dublin and Wicklow become noir-ish nightmares of mutilated bodies buried in the hills and sex slaves trafficked in from overseas to be hidden away behind closed urban doors.

Cathy's voicing is not particularly nuanced in terms of lyricism but her fears and hungers are traced thoroughly as puzzles, horrors and distractions are placed before her.

The ghost of her lost pregnancy is pummelled into submission during obsessive gym sessions, a reflection perhaps of the fact that Cathy is only in her mid-20s and not fully developed emotionally.

Potential, therefore, exists for finer colours and complexities to be added to the protagonist as she ages over the coming years and titles, something which you can bet O'Loughlin is already thinking about.

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