Monday 23 September 2019

Books: Cream of the crime crop

Seven years since its inception, the sextet of finalists for the Ireland AM Crime Novel Award are its best yet, writes crime novelist Eilis O'Hanlon

Shortlisted: RTÉs Sinead Crowley.
Shortlisted: RTÉs Sinead Crowley.
John Banville
Anne O'Donnell, who writes under the name Jax Miller

The rules couldn't be simpler. Irish, either by birth, citizenship or long term residency? Published an original novel in the previous 12 months that fits comfortably into the crime genre? Then congratulations, you're eligible for entry to the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year award.

The bad news is that the closing date has now passed and the finalists have been chosen. The good news is that this is probably the strongest line up in the award's seven-year history, which can only further cement its reputation as the most sought after prize in the burgeoning field of Irish crime fiction.

The genre has certainly proved productive for uncovering the country's dark underbelly; in turn, like their international counterparts, homegrown crime writers have confidently overcome literary snobbery to garner greater respect, with all the signs suggesting that the popularity of the field will continue to grow. There will always be secrets, and bad people prepared to go to any lengths to keep them hidden.

Whoever wins this year will join a prestigious list of previous victors, including Tana French, Alex Barclay, Sunday Independent columnist Gene Kerrigan, and Liz Nugent, who last year set a particularly high bar with her debut novel Unravelling Oliver.

Even The Dead

Benjamin Black


The Book Of Evidence showed his ability to enter dark minds, so it probably shouldn't have been a surprise that John Banville turned out to be an accomplished crime writer as well. In his latest outing as Black, readers are again returned to 1950s Dublin to join lugubrious pathologist Quirke as he probes the death of a man found inside a burning car in the Phoenix Park. The themes are familiar - church and state corruption; repression; small town claustrophobia. Like most of Banville's books, it's of refreshingly modest length, and, if he does win, he'll become the first recipient to also have a ManBooker under his belt.

Freedom's Child

Jax Miller


Within days of finishing this debut novel, Miller, who started it whilst travelling round America on a motorcycle, and now lives in the Irish countryside, had been snapped up by both agent and publisher. Plotwise, it concerns Freedom Oliver, who's spent 18 years in a witness protection programme, hiding from a clan of violent miscreants, the Delaneys, until learning that her daughter, not seen by her since birth, is missing. Convinced the Delaneys have her, she sets out to find the girl, even if leads to her own death. This is tough, visceral writing from a hugely original writer with massive potential.

Are You Watching Me?

Sinead Crowley


This is the sequel to last year's debut thriller by RTE's arts and media correspondent. Like its predecessor, Can Anybody Help Me?, it centres on Detective Sergeant Claire Boyle, who finds herself, back from maternity leave, hunting the killer of lonely men who frequent a drop-in centre in Dublin run by a woman on the receiving end of sinister messages from a stalker who seems unnervingly familiar with the demons in her past.

It's a solid police procedural, probably not as distinctive as the first book, but with a vivid sense of place and a feisty, engaging central character.

Only We Know

Karen Perry

Michael Joseph

Something happened to Luke, Nick and Katie one summer as children in Kenya's Masai Mara.They vowed never to talk about it again.

Twenty years later, on the verge of a successful political career in Dublin, Luke disappears, forcing his dysfunctional former friends to confront what they did all those years ago.

It's a familiar plot device - think of Hollywood slasher movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer - but authors Paul Perry and Karen Gillece, writing for the second time under a shared pseudonym, give it a unique twist, not least through well-realised African settings, and the story steadily builds to a genuinely exciting climax.

After The Fire

Jane Casey

Ebury Press

Casey's an old hand when it comes to this award, having been long-listed four times previously. Her latest is the sixth in a series featuring Metropolitan Police detective Maeve Kerrigan, who this time finds herself investigating three deaths in a fire in a rundown tower block in London. Two victims were locked in a flat on the 11th floor. The third is a controversial MP with no apparent reason to be there, who either jumped or was pushed out of the window. Casey has a fluid, readable style and skilfully fillets news events to give contemporary relevance to her work.

The Game Changer

Louise Phillips

Hachette Books Ireland

The only book on the shortlist by a previous winner - Philips won in 2013 for The Doll's House - this is another story about childhood events reverberating into the present day. At the age of 12, Kate was abducted, but has no memory of what happened to her. Now, years later and a successful criminal psychologist, she finds a note pushed under her door, saying: I remember you. Suddenly she has to face the possibility that her own parents may have been involved, whilst dealing with the fallout from murders in Dublin and NY that may be connected to her past.

The Bord Gais Energy Awards take place next Wednesday at the DoubleTree by Hilton. The ceremony will be screened on RTE1 at 11.15 on Saturday 28th November.

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