Pacy thriller's slow detective

Joe Schmidt

Dublin Dead follows on from Gerard O'Donovan's first foray into the dark world of criminals in The Priest, where journalist Siobhan Fallon and DI Mike Mulcahy are thrown together in the frantic pursuit of a serial killer.

Despite thrillers saturating television and bookshelves, they remain popular and O'Donovan creates enough pace and tension to capture the reader.

The action spans a working week where a series of murders, a suicide and the disappearance of a Cork accountant are investigated.

At the same time, DI Mulcahy and his International Liaison Unit are under pressure to find those responsible for attempting to import €100m of cocaine into Ireland.

The Irish locations appeal, with Dublin Castle, the Olympia Theatre and the "elegant tree-lined avenues" of Foxrock, along with the wild coastlines of west Cork all featuring, but the impact of the recession dampens Mulcahy's mood as he must find a way to emphasise his team's worth or risk it being dissolved as part of budget cuts.


Mulcahy is a likeable cop. He's not perfect -- and certainly seems slow to put the final twist together -- but he is rigorous and well aided by his team. He must contend with the frustrations of jurisdiction and the "bullsh*t investigative carousel" as different departments protect their 'turf'. It begs the question of how efficient police investigations might be if all parties shared information fully.

With the murder of Dublin petty criminal Declan 'Bingo' Begley in Spain and the need to communicate with Dutch police over the possible berthing of a yacht for repairs, identical to the one laden with drugs seized off Rosscarbery, plus the local police 'fiefdoms', Mulcahy must be politically adept to obtain and fit together the pieces of the puzzle.

Still scarred by her experiences in The Priest, Fallon's fragility, which surfaces in flashbacks, contrasts with her journalistic drive and ability to manipulate people.

Fallon is a chief reporter for a Sunday newspaper, making her an unlikely confidante for the police to share sensitive case details with. Nevertheless, she manages to extract information from Mulcahy and even photograph police evidence in Bristol as she pieces together the journey made by the suicide victim.

In contrast to Mulcahy, a detective inspector, who struggles to access police reports and intelligence, it's ironic how easily Fallon tracks down the facts she needs.

The thoughts and conversations between characters are hackneyed at times -- Fallon 'knew the ropes', or it was 'a whole different ballgame', or they were 'killing two birds with one stone'. But with these phrases being so much a part of the way that we think and speak, they have a place in real characters' thoughts or words.

Some of the imagery seemed obscure, overdone or simplistic, where 'he'd rolled up to Mulcahy's desk as silently as a fogbank furling in off the sea' or 'she felt the sun on her neck again, as if all its vast cosmic density were bearing down on her'. These along with "'Yes', Mulcahy said, turning to Ford, 'like a light had gone off in his head' didn't quite work for me.

But the main characters can be identified with, the locations are real and the action is pacy enough to ensure the pages keep getting turned.

The brutality of the murders creates urgency, as does the impending dissolution of the International Liaison Unit, but as each piece comes together the twist does become a bit predictable -- even though our two protagonists struggle to see it.

DUBLIN DEAD By Gerard O'Donovan Sphere, London 2011 (€18.99)