Saturday 23 February 2019

Stenographer turns sleuth

Crime: In The Court's Hands

Fiona Gartland

Poolbeg €14.99

In The Court's Hands
In The Court's Hands

Margaret Carragher

The opening line of Fiona Gartland's debut novel - "If it had rained on the 25th of April at least one woman would not have died" - cuts straight to the chase. Narrator Beatrice Barrington is enjoying a sunny lunch in Dublin's Phoenix Park when she witnesses a covert assignation between two people, one of whom, Stephen O'Farrell, is currently on trial for fraud in the Dublin Criminal Courts of Justice where Beatrice works as a stenographer. Later, Beatrice spots the other person in conversation with the jury forewoman on the O'Farrell case and realises that something is afoot.

Knowing that the trial will collapse at a colossal cost to the State and - worse - that justice might never be served on the villainous O'Farrell if she reports what she's seen, Beatrice turns to an old flame, retired detective Gabriel Ingram, for advice. Then the jury forewoman is found dead in her apartment, surrounded by empty bottles. While waiting for the toxicology report Beatrice goes shopping, only to be approached by a strange woman who urges her to "take a holiday... far away..." before dashing off. Beatrice follows only to find her sprawled under the wheels of a Luas.

Now with two women dead in dubious circumstances a more circumspect sleuth might consider abandoning her investigations. Not Beatrice. It is only when she receives a package stuffed with compromising images of fraudster Stephen O'Farrell and the now deceased jury forewoman that Beatrice realises, with mounting dread, that there is more to this case than she could possibly have imagined. And as events unfold it becomes clear that she herself is in deadly danger. Will Beatrice identify the killer before she becomes his next victim?

As a journalist specialising in court reporting Fiona Gartland's fictional courtroom scenes resound with authenticity, as does the nicely nuanced portrayal of her chief protagonist Beatrice Barrington and sidekick Gabriel Ingram, a double act eminently worthy of a sequel. Bring it on.

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