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Diving into a life of crime for the summer time


Crime author: Julie Haeberlin. Photo: Jill Johnson

Crime author: Julie Haeberlin. Photo: Jill Johnson

Black Eyed Susans

Black Eyed Susans

Crime author Brian McGilloway. Photo: Declan Doherty

Crime author Brian McGilloway. Photo: Declan Doherty


Crime author: Julie Haeberlin. Photo: Jill Johnson

No summer holiday is complete without a juicy crime novel, from classic crime to thriller to police procedural to the currently fashionable 'Grip Lit' (the genre spawned by the success of Gone Girl). Is there any better way to relax than with a bit of murder and mayhem, from the vicarage to the underside of the big city?

Jack the Ripper the serial killer, both real and fictional, has exerted a macabre grip on the public imagination. In most cases, when the multiple murderer is caught, his name, and more often his nickname (The Yorkshire Ripper, The Boston Strangler etc.) becomes infamous while the names of the victims are often forgotten.

At 17, Tessie becomes that very rare thing (both in real life and fiction), a victim who survives a serial killer. Julia Heaberlin's powerful debut novel Black Eyed Susans tells Tessie's story through two interweaving timelines.

In the first timeline, it's 1995, and shortly after Tessie has been found alongside the corpse of another young woman in a field of Black-Eyed Susan flowers. These flowers are the killer's signature and his victims have become known as 'The Susans'. As the surviving 'Susan' Tessie is subject to a lot of unwanted attention, from the court system, school-friends, neighbours, counsellors, her therapist, and of course, the media.

The teenage Tessie has been physically and emotionally traumatised by the attack, which she cannot remember. As a result she is angry, resentful and scared as she sees a therapist and tries to remember the facts.

In the present timeframe, Tessie is now called Tessa and is a single parent to teenage daughter, Charlie. She lives as anonymously as she can, safe in the knowledge that the killer is behind bars and that she helped put him there.

Yet Tessa is still haunted by her past and her inability to recall the missing hours between being abducted and found alive. She also hears the voices of the other 'Susans' in her head.

As the execution date looms for Terrell Darcy Goodwin, the man convicted of the ''Susan' killings, Tessa starts having doubts about his guilt. These doubts are exacerbated when she finds a bed of (out of season) Black-Eyed Susans planted outside her bedroom window. How could a killer who is incarcerated send her such a message?

Terrified for her own safety and that of her teenage daughter, Tessa finally agrees to help the group of lawyers who believe Terrell's conviction for the killings was a miscarriage of justice.

The narrative takes a while to get going and that's partly down to a lot of unnecessary and confusing detail about Tessie's grandfather and the extremely odd house he has built. Also, Tessie is hard to warm to being by turns angry, petulant, unco-operative and aggressive. You can't help but feel sorry for the poor therapist who tries to help her recover lost memories and for her ever loyal friend Lydia. But stick with it, because once the story gets going properly Black-Eyed Susans is about as good an example of Grip Lit as you could read.

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While Grip Lit has been garnering all the headlines another genre has been quietly growing and slowly seeping into the public consciousness. The slow seepage hasn't been helped by the fact that nobody can agree on a name for it, with both Ulster Noir and Northern Noir being used. Personally I prefer Nordie Noir.

Emerald Noir - Irish crime writing - has been thriving for well over a decade, and while most Northern Irish crime writers have been selling books for years, it's only recently that Brian McGilloway, who has been penning magnificent thrillers since 2007, has started getting the attention he so richly deserves. The fact that his first Lucy Black book made the New York Times bestseller list has helped.

Many crime novels, by their very nature, deal in the past and buried secrets, but McGilloway's latest novel Preserve the Dead (the third Lucy Black novel) is very much about the present - about how society is today.

Though the book is set in Derry, the themes could apply to any modern city as the issues DS Lucy Black addresses and uncovers in the course of her investigation into the body of an already embalmed man found in the river, are very contemporary. Preserve the Dead is like a snapshot of modern society and it's not a pretty picture.

However, McGilloway, as he has proven before, especially with his Inspector Devlin series (set in Donegal) knows how to tell a good yarn and Preserve the Dead is just as engrossing as any 'Grip Lit'.

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