Tuesday 18 June 2019

Darkest Truth: A cracking new voice joins Irish crime writing's top table

Thrillers: Darkest Truth, Catherine Kirwan, Century, hardback, 416 pages, €16

Darkest Truth by Catherine Kirwan
Darkest Truth by Catherine Kirwan

Myles McWeeney

Recent sales statistics show thrillers and detective novels are now the most popular type of books, outselling all other types of fiction, and, interestingly, it is women who are leading the charge.

In Britain, the likes of Louise Doughty and JK Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, are enjoying massive sales. Here in Ireland, established female thriller writers such as Tana French, creator of the bestselling Dublin Murder Squad thrillers, Dubliner Jane Casey, whose DS Maeve Kerrigan novels are set in London where she lived until recently, and Alex Barclay, who sets some of her tough-as-nails Ren Bryce thrillers in the USA, also sell shedloads of books on a regular basis.

But these three, not to mention other hugely popular distaff crime authors such as Jo Spain, Sinéad Crowley, Patricia Gibney and Liz Nugent, must be looking a little nervously over their shoulders at the burgeoning talent in this field that is lining up to make a charge for top honours.

Almost exactly a year ago, Dervla McTiernan burst on to the scene with the scintillating thriller The Ruin, which opens with one of the most tragic and arresting images you can imagine. Later in 2018, another first-time thriller writer, Olivia Kiernan, delivered her polished debut, Too Close to Breathe, in which Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan, who is suffering from severe PTSD from a recent frenzied knife attack, must unravel the mystery of the apparent suicide of a leading female physician.

And now, this week, we see the publication Darkest Truth, another gripping mystery from a female pen. The author is Catherine Kirwan, who grew up on a farm in Fews in Co Waterford. After leaving school, she went to UCC and studied law and since then has lived in Cork, where she practises as a solicitor.

It is little surprise then that Kirwan's protagonist also happens to be a solicitor, Finn Fitzpatrick. Buttonholed by a distressed elderly man as she leaves the office late one evening, he insists she must look into the reasons why his only daughter Deirdre committed suicide. He is convinced that Ireland's most famous film director, who met Deirdre when she was a bright, happy and outgoing youngster 15 years before at the Cork Film Festival, was the catalyst in her demise.

Against all her legal and personal instincts, Finn is intrigued by the grieving man's story. Why did a bright and confident young girl suddenly drop out of school and isolate herself from everyone who cared about her? She begins to probe the story and the deeper she delves, the darker and more twisted the picture becomes, and powerful forces align to attempt to stop her investigations.

But violence and danger make Finn even more determined to seek the truth, and she discovers surprising facts that suggest she might have closer links to Deirdre that she could have possibly imagined.

This is a wonderfully assured debut. While the plot of Darkest Truth may have been suggested by the recent worldwide #MeToo movement, there is little of the 'me too' in its writing because Kirwan delivers her cracking tale in her own distinctive voice. In Finn Fitzpatrick, she has created an immensely likeable, feisty and individual character, and the supporting cast in this intriguing mystery are equally well drawn.

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