Sunday 24 September 2017

Review: Dublin Dead by Gerard O'Donvan

(Sphere, €12.99)

Gerard O'Donovan's first thriller, The Priest, climaxed with crime reporter Siobhan Fallon being saved in the nick of time after a demented serial killer crucified her in the Phoenix Park. Scarred but undeterred by her ordeal, she returns in Dublin Dead to help solve a case that involves drug running, a young woman who's vanished, Irish thugs on the Costa del Sol and a mysterious suicide from the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol.

Also back for this second outing is decent cop Mike Mulcahy who, with his colleagues in the gardai's international liaison unit, is trying to find out the answer to two seemingly separate puzzles -- who murdered Dublin lowlife Declan Begley in Fuengirola and who is behind an abandoned drug importation off the coast of west Cork?

Meanwhile, a distraught mother has asked Siobhan to locate her daughter Gemma, who has gone missing from her accountancy practice in Cork. She also happens to be a former girlfriend of the estate agent whose life abruptly ended in Bristol.

Are the two things related and have they any connection to Mulcahy's investigations? These are the questions posed and ultimately answered in O'Donovan's engrossing scenario, which comes to a conclusion in west Cork.

The back-cover blurb for Dublin Dead quotes from my review of O'Donovan's first novel in which I commended the author's "sure command of plot and pacing, lively sense of locale and quirky sense of character", and these qualities are also evident in the new book, which moves along briskly and is never less than engaging.

But I also said of The Priest that the author's "leaden way with language means that no cliché is left unturned" and I'm afraid that remains true of Dublin Dead, in which an alert eye for local detail and intriguing characters isn't matched by a good ear for prose.

Criminals are engaged in "a vicious turf war", some of which takes place in the "lashing rain". And when characters are not experiencing "a dull ache" they're either "rooted to the spot" or giving people "a withering look".

And if the language is too often threadbare and careless, the author's occasional attempts at contemporary relevance are simply trite.

Almost every Irish crime novel published in the last couple of years has featured a critique of the Irish economy's downturn, as if this somehow lends some meaningful weight to the proceedings, and O'Donovan is no different, though the editorialising never rises above the level of this observation on our current sorry state:

"For all that the bankers were at fault -- and they were -- they couldn't have ruined the country without the developers, who in turn couldn't have done it without the Government, who couldn't have done anything at all without the people who kept voting them back into power so everyone could keep pretending the Irish were the only people on the planet who could have wealth without responsibility."

The book's pleasures, then, have to do with likeable main characters and with fluent storytelling, though even on that level it falters towards the end when we're told of a supposedly sensational plot twist that "Mulcahy cursed himself for the thousandth time for not having figured it out earlier".

I'm afraid I'd figured it out at least 80 pages earlier.

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