Saturday 17 March 2018

Books: Secrets, a skeleton and a solicitor in Donegal

Crime: Death at Whitewater Church, Andrea Carter, Constable, hdbk, 336 pages, €28.99

Andrea Carter: lyrical descriptions of Inishowen peninsula
Andrea Carter: lyrical descriptions of Inishowen peninsula

Set in the ruggedly beautiful landscape of the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal, this assured debut mystery by Dublin-based barrister Andrea Carter introduces country solicitor and amateur sleuth Benedicta O'Keefe.

Ben, as she prefers to be called, works alone as a solicitor in the little town of Glendara. Among her clients are local publican and restaurateur Raymond Kelly and his US-born wife Alison, the owners of Whitewater Church, a lonely deconsecrated chapel set on a remote headland 15 miles from the town. When an English couple express an interest in buying the property, Ben visits Whitewater with surveyor Paul Doherty. To their horror they stumble on a skeleton wrapped in an old blanket secreted away in a hidden crypt.

Everybody, including the handsome if sometimes moody Garda Sergeant Tom Molloy, is convinced the bones are those of Conor Devitt, a young local man who six years previously went missing on the eve of his wedding. While Conor's disappearance was hugely upsetting, most people assumed that, overcome by his pending nuptials, he had simply done a runner to England.

But Ben, who cheerfully admits she suffers from an advanced case of nosiness, begins to dig a little deeper into the past. She comes up against a marked reluctance on the part of the townspeople to reopen the wounds of the past and, in particular, the unhappy history of the Devitt family. Her persistence, however, wakes the sleeping dogs of internecine jealousy and small town rivalries, and she unwittingly precipitates a violent confrontation that brings a final resolution to a terrorist event in the past that had haunted the small town.

Ben's well-meaning but often thwarted efforts to unearth the secrets of local personal and political history in the closed Inishowen community in search of the truth makes for engaging reading, and her growing attraction to Tom Molloy adds romantic interest to this promising first novel.

More than 10 years in the writing, Death at Whitewater Church is the first of a series by Andrea Carter, who herself worked as a solicitor in Inishowen for a number of years. It's by no means an edge-of-the-seat thriller, but it more than compensates for that by being filled with well-drawn and engaging characters, lyrical descriptions of the stunning scenery of Ireland's most northerly peninsula in the depths of a harsh winter, and intriguing mysteries to be unravelled. It's a hugely enjoyable first effort and the good news is that the second "Ben" book is already with the publisher.

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