“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.” (Seamus Heaney)

This is a contribution to Reading Ireland 2017 aka the Begorrathon, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Niall at Raging Fluff – do join in!

I’ve decided to make debut novels featuring a crime the theme of the post (the first choice isn’t quite a crime novel, hence that rather cumbersome explanation). It was with regret that I decided the following quote – so thematically apt – was too long to pick as a title:

“There are three states of legality in Irish law. There is all this stuff here under “That’s grand”; then it moves into “Ah, now, don’t push it”; and finally to “Right! You’re taking the piss.” And that’s where the police sweep in.” (Dara O’Briain)

Firstly, The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney’s debut novel which won the Bailey’s Prize in 2016 (the 2017 longlist was announced yesterday). Set in Cork, it tells the story of Robbie O’Donvan’s death – an almost homeless drug addict who theoretically could disappear with few people noticing – and the fractures that radiate out across the city from this one act.

McInerney is interested in the members of society who are simultaneously vilified and ignored. So the people affected by Robbie’s death include a teenage drug dealer, his alcoholic father, their paedophile neighbour, Robbie’s prostitute girlfriend. If this sounds depressing, it really isn’t due to McInerney’s comic voice and eye for beauty where there should be none.

“The rain cleared off in the evening, Tony walked down to the off-licence and stood outside it like a child with tuppence to his name outside the toy shop. If he pressed his nose to the glass, he may well have been able to smell it. The heady warmth of the thought seeped through his hell and into his bones and lifted his onto his toes and rose off him like holy water off the devil’s shoulders.”

She doesn’t shy away from the reality of the situation, but presents it in a complex way, so Tony’s alcoholism is seen through his own eyes as self-medication for the pressures he is under, and we also shown the catastrophic impact this has on his son, Ryan. All the people in the novel are self-aware enough to know the damage they are doing to themselves and others but they are powerless to stop it:

“How could you be two people in five years? How could you undergo such a metamorphosis – whore to saint – and paint the slattern back over the scar tissue only a few short years later?”

McInerney manages to covey insight without ever sitting in judgement on her characters. This moment stood out for me as the tragedy of people who are in so much pain, yet unable to articulate to themselves or others:

“And for the beat before he wordlessly left her she grasped something of what he was trying to say, And that it might have been nice to have someone like him, someone who got it, someone who might have stood by her and bawled her out of it when she stepped out of line.”

The city of Cork is an additional, pervasive character in the novel, surrounding, influencing and directing all the other characters:

“Jimmy had watched the city long enough to know that it would right itself, sooner or later, and that the silence following Robbie O’Donovan’s death was just a long, caught breath”

“The city runs on macro, but what’s that, except the breathing, beating, swallowing, sweating agonies and ecstasies of a hundred thousand little lives?”

I haven’t mentioned much plot-wise regarding The Glorious Heresies, because to me this was the least interesting part of the novel (but still excellent).  How Robbie O’Donovan’s death is dealt with in practical terms is the bare bones of what McInerney is writing about. As a series of characters studies of people and their city, The Glorious Heresies is warm, affectionate, brutal, bleak and incisive.

Secondly, In the Woods by Tana French (2007), the first of her Dublin Murder Squad series, focussing on detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox as they investigate the murder of 12 year old Katy Devlin. I’m not a great one for crime novels but I was persuaded by Lady Fancifull to give French a try. I’m glad I did, but first I had to make it through an appallingly overwritten prologue; I have no idea what French’s editors were thinking, letting her start with a passage which includes a description of a forest thus:

“It’s silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises”

Having waded through such pretentious nonsense, I was rewarded with an accomplished debut crime novel. Rob Ryan is asked to investigate the murder of a child in his home town just outside Dublin, his superiors unaware that when he was twelve, he was found in the same woods as the victim, bloodied and amnesiac, with his two best friends lost forever. If this sounds a bit clichéd, French has fun with it:

“And I suppose, if I’m being honest, it appealed to both my ego and to my sense of the picturesque, the idea of carrying this strange charged secret through the case unsuspected. I suppose it felt, at the time, like the kind of thing that enigmatic Central Casting maverick would have done.”

Maverick coppery 101

As Rob and his partner Cassie investigate Katy’s murder, they discover family secrets and political conspiracies, but did these lead to the death of a twelve year old girl, excited to be going to ballet school?

“All these private, parallel dimensions, underlying such an innocuous little estate; all these self-contained worlds layered onto the same space. I thought of the dark strata of archaeology underfoot; of the fox outside my window, calling out to a city that barely overlapped with mine.”

In the Woods was a good read and filled with believable characters, which bodes well for the rest of the Dublin Murder Squad novels as French focusses on a different person each time. Some quibbles: it was too long and (I feel like I say this all the time) could have done with a heavier-handed edit. The voice of Rob Ryan sometimes felt distinctly feminine but at least he wasn’t an alpha-male detective type. This aside, French’s talent is evident and I’m sure she’s gone from strength to strength in her subsequent novels.

To end, the cop with the least convincing Irish accent of all time, but the performance still won an Oscar, because it’s Lord High Commander Sir Sean Connery 😀



31 thoughts on ““If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.” (Seamus Heaney)

  1. Hangs head – I loved the prologue!! (Tana) Mind you, by the time I read book 1 I had read book 4 and 5, which were stunning, and I was permanently in roll over and surrender to Tana territory.

    Funnily enough, I was thinking about her this morning, because I have done a similar ‘can’t get enough of’ with Mick Herron, and having just finished book 3 of his 4, to date, in the Slough House series, was thinking that, unlike French, his ‘tricks’ are more evident, and some of them are a little irritating by book 3. But of course, normally you would have been waiting eagerly for the next in the series to be published and have forgotten some of what went before.

    I think French’s real strength is to have, not a permanent cast of characters, but the shadowy background of chorus, and then a couple have the spotlight upon them, so you are meeting new depth characters each time

    Such a lovely ‘how not to do an Irish accent but totally forgiveable because it is Sean Connery’ video. Thanks for that. Marvellous, to be sure, to be sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe it was me, Lady F! Her publishers must have loved the prologue too 🙂

      I definitely want to read more of her so thank you for alerting me to an author I never would have picked up otherwise. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the rest of the Dublin Murder Squad! And you’ve alerted me to Mick Herron too – this is terrible for my TBR pile….

      Sean’s charisma is just a juggernaut, ploughing down any objections to dodgy accents in its path 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Blimey, there are two strong contenders for my emergency book buys here. The more I read about ‘The Glorious Heresies’ the more I’m convinced it’s a ‘must read’. As my crime fiction addiction shows no sign of waning maybe it’s time I left the cold north and headed to Ireland for the Spring, and Into the Woods looks like a great place to start!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’d really like The Glorious Heresies, Sarah! But I will compensate for this temptation by saying that if you email me your address, I will post my copy of In the Woods to you – I’m trying to be more ruthless in what I keep, as I am perilously close to an intervention from loved ones and finding myself on one of those hoarding programmes!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ooo, fabulous! Thank you so much, that’s really kind of you. I’m just clearly up some grisly murders in Stockholm, then I’ll be more than ready to delve into the dark underbelly of Irish crime – woohoo, I can’t wait! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So pleased that I’m not adding to my TBR stack as a result of your post 😀 I have Glorious Heresies (haven’t quite got to it yet) and to be honest, even if I had a handsome Irish man to read the Tana French aloud in the loveliest accent of all the accents (Irish, obviously), I’d probably still say no… Irish things yes, crime novels, no.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Couldn’t agree more about the prologue of In the Woods – still makes me feel quite nauseous to think of. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt Rob’s voice was feminine – I think it was when he said one of his male colleagues looked “adorable” that I laughed aloud. Still, it was a reasonable debut, though I wasn’t as blown away by it as some people seem to have been. I have the next one on my Kindle, but so far haven’t been inspired to shoehorn it in…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I missed the adorable comment – how funny! If I was the editors I would have scrapped the prologue all together. Mind you, if I was an editor hardly any books would make it over 300 pages so it’s probably for the best that I’m not!

      I do feel inclined to read more French, especially since those who have say she goes from strength to strength. My TBR hates me right now…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The Glorious Heresies sounds wonderful, and I’m hoping to read it… someday. Maybe next March!
    And it’s good to hear your thoughts on the Tana French, because I got that one out (with Reading Ireland in mind), but felt like it was going on and on before I could even get into it. So, sounds like I just have to get past that, do I?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Glorious Heresies really is rather wonderful – a very worthy Bailey’s winner. I’ve got a trip to Ireland lined up for the summer, which is a great excuse to seek out more Irish fiction (though I think I’ll let you do the hard work with ‘In The Woods’ which sounds good-but-not-great and so hasn’t moved far up the monumental reading wish-list).

    Liked by 1 person

    • How lovely – I hope you have a wonderful time this summer. More Irish reading is definitely the way to prepare! Good-but-not-great is about right for In the Woods, but her later stuff sounds like it could be great-great if you want some crime to add to your pre-holiday reading list 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am really tempted by both of those, I am not really a fan of crime fiction either, but I think that’s because people have pushed me to read Rebus and other close-to-home novels that just depress me. However, crime fiction somewhere else is a bit more Orient Express and less kitchen sink, and I generally like Irish things.

    Also, ‘It’s silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises’ actually made me laugh out loud, as I said to myself in Bill Bailey’s voice with an 80s keyboard backing track.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I don’t think I’ quite ready for Rebus yet – far too real and close to home, as you say! Although this was in a recognisable reality, it wasn’t unnervingly real.

      I hadn’t realised but that’s a very Bill Bailey line isn’t it? I would love to hear him say it accompanying himself on the keyboard 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Begorrathon 2017: Go Raibh Maith Agaibh agus Slán! | The Fluff Is Raging

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