Limerick businessman Steve Collins was hailed for his bravery when, earlier this year, his testimony in a Dublin court helped ensure a life sentence for the gangland boss responsible for the murder of his son, Roy.
As the godfather of the feared Dundon/McCarthy gang, Wayne Dundon had waged a veritable war on Limerick since the turn of the century, and his conviction was seen as a victory in the face of underworld evil.
Collins and his family have been forced to live in a witness protection programme outside Ireland, but he returned to ensure justice for his innocent son, who had been gunned down on Dundon's orders in 2009. The reason for the hit? The refusal of Steve Collins' adopted son Ryan to admit Dundon's 14-year-old sister into a nightclub run by the family.
Both men feature prominently in Paul Williams' exhaustive, absorbing account of organised crime in Limerick. The city that had earned the unflattering sobriquet 'Stab City' in the 1980s descended into one of the most lethal gangland zones in Western Europe just two decades later. And much of it was down to the terror caused by Wayne Dundon, his three brothers and their rivalry with the equally nasty Keane/Collopy gang.
In an environment where the thugs on RTE's phenomenally-successful drama series Love/Hate are glorified by the general public - one need only consider the 'King Nidge' Dublin GAA jerseys rushed out by sportswear firm O'Neills - Williams shows there is nothing glamorous about the true crime lords and the associates who are happy to do their bidding.
The book opens with a chilling anecdote about the callousness of an unnamed Limerick gang leader. On learning that a young man who had been assigned as driver for a shooting had been upset afterwards, the boss ordered he be killed. His thinking was that such a supposedly-weak individual might turn informer if arrested.
According to Williams, the individual who executed the driver was heard to be laughing and joking with his friends as he relayed to them his victim's pleas for his life to be spared.
As Williams demonstrates time and again, the Dundon brothers and their cousins, the McCarthys, had no regard for life whatsoever - whether it was a rival gang member who needed to be 'dispatched' or a member of the public who had the misfortune to find their way into his sightlines.
Williams paints a grim picture of life for the people who were living in the working-class housing estates that came under the control of the gangs in the 1990s. Honest, decent people who were trying to get on with their lives were intimidated into leaving their homes - some were offered £10,000 for properties that had been worth £80,000. Those who refused to go risked being burnt out.
As gang leaders like Wayne Dundon allowed these estates to become run down and dilapidated, the focus turned on the young teenagers left behind. Soon, many of them were sucked into a life of crime from which there was no escape.
One of those who came from Limerick's tough estates but refused the criminality route was Brian Fitzgerald. Determined to make his own way in life, he found work as the head of security at a Limerick nightclub and was admired for enforcing a strict no-drugs policy. But when he refused to allow known pushers from the Dundon/McCarthy gang to gain entry, he earned the wrath of the gang.
Fitzgerald displayed remarkable bravery in the face of sustained intimidation. Although he was warned he would be killed if he didn't accommodate the desire of the gang to sell drugs at the club, he stood his ground. Ultimately, Brian Fitzgerald paid the price - he was gunned down outside his home after returning from work in the early hours of the morning.
Although Williams painstakingly details the internecine gang conflict that scarred Limerick for years, Murder Inc is at its most compelling when the journalist - an Irish Independent special correspondent - details those ordinary families whose lives were ruined by what he describes as "narco-terrorists".
He outlines how the murder of the popular rugby player, Shane Geoghegan - in a case of mistaken identity - helped intensify police efforts to bring the city under control and he is keen to remember some of the other less-publicised victims of the gangs, including Clare farmer Paud Skehan, who was savagely beaten to death during a burglary by one of Dundon's more feared henchmen, Gary Campion.
Williams pays tribute to those brave gardaí who, despite mounting provocation, helped restore normality in a city that was being torn apart. "They often went far beyond the call of duty, risking their lives to protect and serve - and deserve to be called patriots," he writes.
The tide really turned against the gangs with the introduction of the 'Dublin Squad' - a group of specially-selected gardaí who helped bolster the work of the local force and whose tactics helped frustrate the efforts of the Dundons and others to conduct their criminal activities.
Ultimately, though, Williams contends that it is the courage of people like Steve Collins and his family who have ensured the worst excesses of Limerick's crime fraternities have been consigned to history - and, in many cases, to jail.
Murder Inc; Paul Williams; Penguin Ireland, tpbk, €21.90
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