Friday 23 February 2018

Parsons returns with a cracking crime thriller

Crime: The Therapy House, Julie Parsons, New Island, €13.95

Julie Parsons is back on the murder trail after a nine-year break. Photo: Kip Carroll
Julie Parsons is back on the murder trail after a nine-year break. Photo: Kip Carroll
The Therapy House

Anne Cunningham

Julie Parsons's international legion of fans have had a long wait for her new novel. In her first book since 2008, The Therapy House is arriving laden with expectations. And it seems the wait was worth it.

Michael McLoughlin, retired garda and part-time PI, has managed to buy the house of his dreams, an old Victorian villa in a Dublin seaside suburb. It's known as The Therapy House as its previous owners ran a psychotherapy clinic on the premises. The renovations are expensive, so McLoughlin finds himself following unfaithful husbands on their "business" weekends away, providing betrayed wives with evidence for the divorce courts.

On one particular "dirty weekend" he's working in Italy, near where the man who killed his father lives, untouched and untouchable. Michael's father was a garda who interrupted a bank robbery and was shot in cold blood.

Ex-IRA man James Reynolds, his father's murderer, has retired to an Italian village and opened an Irish bar there.

And though everyone knows Reynolds pulled the trigger, insufficient evidence has left him a free man, leaving McLoughlin haunted by the injustice of it all, even more so after deciding to pay Reynolds a visit.

Meanwhile, back in Dublin, Michael's neighbour is murdered. John Hegarty is a retired Supreme Court judge, a quiet bachelor who has spent his retirement living in his opulent Victorian home beside The Therapy House.

He's a discerning art collector and likes to play his grand piano in the drawing room. He answers his front door expecting his friends over for drinks and backgammon. He is instead to endure a nightmare of protracted and deeply disturbing torture before he is shot with his grandfather's antique gun.

McLoughlin is determined to get to the bottom of his next-door-neighbour's murder, fuelled by an intriguing visit from the judge's brother.

It seems that Judge Hegarty was not always the man he appeared to be, and while everyone has their secrets, Judge Hegarty's secrets are more disturbing than most.

Other, more personal business, is also on McLoughlin's mind. His working weekend in Italy has renewed his vigour in seeking justice for his murdered father. And it takes a little slice of genius to weave these two seemingly disparate killings together into one busy, briskly-paced plot.

Julie Parsons worked in production in RTE before her first novel, Mary, Mary, was published in 1998.

It was an instant success, both commercially and critically, prompting none other than Joyce Carol Oates to describe it as "beautifully written and harrowing".

The New York Times described Mary, Mary as "a first novel of astonishing emotional impact". Reactions like that to a debut novel are rare and precious.

It seems Parsons was left with no choice but to write full-time, and she followed up with several equally successful titles, including The Courtship Gift, The Hourglass and her 2008 novel I Saw You.

Although her books have been huge international hits and have been translated into 20 languages, her hallmark is her contemporary Dublin settings, and her attention to detail is remarkable.

It gives her novels an authenticity which are all their own. I'd be fairly certain of what street - or park, more correctly - it is in Dun Laoghaire where much of the action in The Therapy House takes place. Her affection for Dublin is obvious, although maybe not so much for Venice - especially when it rains!

A break of nine years is a long time for a writer who had previously been publishing regularly, on each occasion to great acclaim.

In recent years, Parsons has been researching The Mariner's Project in Dun Laoghaire. She is the granddaughter of a Protestant clergyman whose church was The Mariner's Church, now The National Maritime Museum.

Born herself in New Zealand of Irish parents, Julie discovered a very real mystery in Dun Laoghaire. Almost all the Protestant families who would have populated Dun Laoghaire in her own parents' time have disappeared. Parsons has been on a quest to trace these families in an effort to explain how a large Protestant community could have simply dissolved.

Last December, she wrote an extensive piece for this newspaper about her research, citing the new Free State and the events surrounding it, and most particularly De Valera's sectarian views, as being contributing factors.

Parsons's own father died in mysterious circumstances when she was just four years old. In an interview with Crime Fiction Ireland some years ago, she said: "I can't solve the mystery of what happened to my father but I can, in my creative life, tell stories which have a mystery at their heart, and I can solve that mystery every time."

Her new novel shows her to be in cracking form as she re-introduces some characters from her previous mysteries - heroes and villains alike - and produces yet another page-turner.

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