Women writers are more deadly of the species as four earn nominations, while a Booker laureate and lawyer also make the hitlist
To use an appropriate phrase, crime fiction continues to sell like gangbusters to Irish readers — and we love a bit of homegrown talent. Our crime writers are among the best in the world, as proven by the sheer strength of the shortlist for the 2021 An Post Irish Crime Fiction Book of the Year award, sponsored by the Irish Independent. And what diversity among their ranks: you’ve got a Booker laureate, a two-time former winner of this prize, a lawyer and a number of rising stars.
Women dominate the shortlist again, with four from six; in crime-writing terms at least, the female of the species is more deadly than the male. Indeed, only two men have won Crime Fiction Book of the Year in its dozen-year existence, and none since 2011.
Anyway, our runners and riders are under starter’s orders — now let’s sound the gun (the equestrian type, not Raymond Chandler), and they’re off…
Take home the prize for the third time and Jane Casey will surpass Liz Nugent and Tana French at the top of the all-time roll of honour. Her previous victories came in 2015 and 2019, and The Killing Kind has every chance of completing the hat-trick.
The Dubliner is famous for her London-based Maeve Kerrigan series of police procedurals; in this standalone novel, lawyer Ingrid finds her life under threat and must call on the help of the weirdo who had previously stalked her. Our review described The Killing Kind as “that just-right blend of serpentine plot, believable characters and a hero we want to root for, plus a thriller tension that’s ratcheted so tightly at times, you almost need to put the book aside and take a breather”.
Casey’s own criminal-barrister husband helps with the legal details in her novels, but really, a talent this huge needs little assistance.
Who could have thought, in 2005, that John Banville would one day be as famous for his crime novels as his literary work? Back then The Sea had just won the Booker, culminating three decades of acclaimed work as one of literature’s finest stylists. Then Benjamin Black arrived.
That was Banville’s nom de plume for Christine Falls, first in a series of crime novels about 1950s pathologist Quirke. Seven more have followed, all commercial successes, as did a TV adaptation starring Gabriel Byrne. Somewhat confusingly, Banville — as Black — branched out into standalone mysteries with 2017’s Prague Nights. Even more confusingly, he is now writing the Quirke novels under his own name, which is why John Banville — not Benjamin Black — is up for this award.
Regardless, April in Spain has all the elements of a classic Quirke mystery. He leaves rain-washed Dublin for sun-splashed San Sebastian. His idyll is disturbed when he spots a woman he knows — but it couldn’t be her, because she was murdered years before…
In 2016, Andrea Mara switched tracks from blogging and freelance writing to crafting mysteries — and how that decision has paid off. Her debut novel, The Other Side of the Wall, was an instant smash; follow-up, One Click, was shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year in 2018, making this fourth thriller her second time in contention.
All Her Fault takes place in a quiet Dublin suburb, as Marissa Irvine goes to pick up son Milo from a play date with a boy at his new school. But she doesn’t recognise the woman who answers the door — and worse, Milo is nowhere to be seen. Someone has taken Marissa’s child; the fun in this fiendishly twisting narrative is trying to work out who that might be.
Andrea runs the award-winning parent and lifestyle website OfficeMum.ie, and has contributed to a number of papers and websites, including the Irish Independent, Image Magazine and Woman’s Way, as well as appearing on RTÉ’s Today show.
Another previously shortlisted for this award, Catherine Ryan Howard has come a long way from working the front desk at a hotel in Walt Disney World. As well as being nominated for the prestigious Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award and included in the Guardian’s list of 50 Great Thrillers by Women Written Since 1945, her third novel, Rewind, is being developed for television.
56 Days is a tricky, tricksy, brilliantly entertaining — and very timely — thriller about Oliver and Ciara, who meet and hit it off just days before the first Covid lockdown was announced in March 2020. They decide to see out the curfew in the throes of a passionate affair — but one, or both, of them is hiding some very dark secrets.
This newspaper wrote that 56 Days was “a belter… [that] skilfully dances between different character perspectives, across a Memento-style jumbled chronology, sometimes giving us the same incident from opposing viewpoints, to build up a compelling mystery”.
As her own website has it, “Sam Blake herself is a character from the imagination of Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin.” She is founder of the brilliant writers’ resources website Writing.ie, The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and Murder One, Ireland’s premium crime-writing festival. She is a board member of the Society of Authors, fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, past chair of Irish PEN and convenor of the Irish Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association.
O’Loughlin is also Sam Blake, bestselling author of the Garda Detective Cat Connolly trilogy and two standalone mysteries that have hit number one in the Irish bestsellers’ list (and briefly outsold Graham Norton).
The Dark Room follows Rachel Lambert, from London, and Caroline Kelly, from New York, to Hare’s Landing in West Cork. The two women have their own reasons for coming to this remote spot, but must join forces in their investigations to uncover the truth about a 30-year-old missing person’s case.
Nominated last year for Fifty-Fifty, Steve Cavanagh continues his madly popular Eddie Flynn series with The Devil’s Advocate, sending the reformed conman-turned-lawyer on a wild ride into America’s Deep South.
In real life, the Belfast author is a lawyer himself, specialising in civil rights cases, giving an extra pinch of spice to this complex tale of a young black man accused of murder. This being the backward climes of Buckstown, Alabama, Andy Dubois faces an uphill battle to convince a jury of his innocence. Worse than that, creepy DA Randall Korn is a man who loves to convict — and to watch a condemned man fry.
Cavanagh co-hosts the chart-topping podcast Two Crime Writers and a Microphone, which showcases his quick wit and affable personality. The Devil’s Advocate, meanwhile, shows his mastery of scene-setting, plot construction and delivery of plain old thrills to the reader.
For more details on the An Post Irish Book Awards, visit irishbookawards.ie. Winners are announced on November 23