Tuesday 20 March 2018

Author shines a light on the strange mysteries of remote Bone Island

Crime: Blood Tide, Claire McGowan, Headline €21

Author Claire McGowan
Author Claire McGowan

Eilis O'Hanlon

A young English couple go missing shortly after moving to a remote island off the Kerry coast. The door of the lighthouse where they lived is bolted from the inside, and there's blood in the kitchen, but nobody knows what happened to them.

Enter Paula Maguire, a forensic psychologist and missing person's expert. She arrives convinced that this is one of those cases "that when you plunged into them just kept going, deep and dark as the sea".

Sure enough, she soon discovers that other strange things have been happening.

A mother has deliberately placed her new-born baby in a pen with vicious dogs; a schoolgirl has attacked her classmate with a poker, putting her eye out. The number of birth defects among seal pups is on the rise. Then there's Enviracorp, a business set up on the island to extract minerals from seaweed.

Bone Island, named after the Irish for white because of its white sand, has less than 300 inhabitants, and they don't appreciate interference from the mainland.

The place is isolated, "the end of the known world for a long time", and soon after Paula's arrival the island is hit by a storm. Landlines are down. Electricity is out. There's never a mobile phone signal anyway. Paula is on her own.

This is a place that holds bittersweet memories for her. The last time she was here was with her parents as a child. Two months later, her mother disappeared.

Paula may be an expert in finding missing people but so far she's failed to discover what happened in her own family.

For years she was convinced her mother had been abducted and killed by the IRA, but now she's not so sure.

The story of the missing couple runs in parallel with fragments of investigation into that earlier vanishing, and, while very much in the background, it's actually far more intriguing. McGowan herself is from the North, and the Paula Maguire series, of which this is the fifth instalment, is set, for the most part, in a fictional border town called Ballyterrin.

The author seems much more at ease in this milieu than down in Kerry, where events don't always ring true, and whose inhabitants speak exactly like Northerners, complete with plentiful uses of "wee" and "youse".

Crime writer Ken Bruen hails McGowan as "Ireland's answer to Ruth Rendell", and, while that might be going too far, the story zips along nicely, albeit to a not entirely unpredictable conclusion.

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