Monday 21 October 2019

Ghosts in a Gothic mansion, terrible parents and a hidden killer

Pick your winner from six first-class writers who reflect the fantastic array of modern Irish crime writing, writes Anne Marie Scanlon

Author Andrea Mara. Photo: Patrick Bolger
Author Andrea Mara. Photo: Patrick Bolger
Dervla McTiernan
William Ryan

Pity the judges who have to pick a winner from the Irish Independent Crime Fiction Book of the Year category in the An Post Irish Book Awards. All six nominees are strong contenders and are great examples of just how much diversity the 'Crime' genre contains.

A House of Ghosts by W. C. Ryan (Bonnier Zaffre) is a wonderful old-school, Agatha Christie-style mystery with a supernatural element. Set during World War I, a seemingly disparate party of house guests are assembled in a Gothic mansion, formerly an abbey.

The mansion is situated on an island which due to bad weather becomes cut off, the phone lines are sabotaged and ghosts start to gather. As the tension rises the previously connections between the guests - Russian psychic, playboy, lady clairvoyant and government spies Kate and Donovan begin to emerge - mostly the deaths of loved ones during the war. A House of Ghosts is wonderfully written and a jolly good read.

One Click by Andrea Mara (Poolbeg) is bang up to date. Lauren is a psychologist and amateur photographer. On holiday she posts a picture of a beautiful girl on a beach. It goes viral and amid all the glowing feedback there's someone, VIN, who is insistent on knowing who the girl is and where they can find her.

When Lauren returns to Dublin and to her exceptionally creepy client Jonathan, VIN becomes more insistent and more threatening.

Mara gives us twists and turns aplenty in this thriller. By the end I suspected everyone except the real culprit. The only problem with One Click is that after reading it you'll want to delete your entire online presence and live 'off-grid'.

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (Sphere) is a good solid police procedural. Like Andrea Mara, McTiernan keeps the reader guessing.

Within the story itself the theme of children and motherhood are central and how both can negatively impact each other. When a woman chooses her addiction over her children it leaves them at the mercy of other adults, while an unexpected pregnancy could ruin a trainee surgeon's career.

Liz Nugent pursues similar themes in Skin Deep (Penguin Ireland) - the damage bad or neglectful parenting can have on children as with her heroine Cordelia and how pregnancy and motherhood can derail a woman's life. Skin Deep, while being as grippy as any thriller, is also a damning indictment of the way women have been treated in Ireland.

The Confession by Jo Spain (writer of TV's new crime series Taken Down) is also an indictment of modern Ireland especially those who benefited from the Celtic Tiger years but escaped the consequences of the subsequent crash.

The story begins with prominent financier Harry McNamara being battered around the head with his own golf club.

The assailant JP immediately turns himself in and the subsequent narrative delivered from his point of view, that of Julie, Harry's wife, and detective Alice slowly reveals the motive.

Spain goes from strength to strength with every book and this is an absolute page turner.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh (Orion) is a classic John Grisham-style courtroom drama but with an added twist. Set in New York usually low-key attorney Flynn finds himself at the heart of the 'Case of the Century' defending Hollywood's latest darling Bobby Solomon against the charge of double homicide - his wife and bodyguard. (This is where all similarities with OJ Simpson begin and end.)

Bobby swears he's innocent despite the evidence being stacked against him and his inability to provide an alibi.

Meanwhile the real killer, a serial killer who has gone undetected for decades, is on the jury, determined to convict and God help any juror who looks like they might acquit.

There's a fantastic twist at the end that the reader will not see coming.

Sunday Independent

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