Review: The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

9780571316298This book is described as Edna O’Brien’s masterpiece on the cover, which is a complete understatement.

Set in the small Irish country town of Cloonoila the opening of the novel focuses on a new arrival to the town. A man claiming to be a healer has recently arrived and is causing a stir. The book flits between various townspeople and their different reactions and interactions with this new arrival. The small town is intrigued by the new figure and the medicines and healing philosophy he has brought with him. None more so that Fidelma who becomes infatuated with the man. When the man’s past finally catches up with him it has devastating consequences on all those who have come in contact with him. Especially Fidelma.

Edna O’Brien’s class as a writer shines through every word. The opening stories of the novel are reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge in the way their chronology and connection is at first not easily determined. The innocence of the townspeople leaches through to the reader and when the grim reality of who the stranger is revealed the repercussions are all the more shocking. The second half of the novel changes tack ever so skillfully and focuses on Fidelma and the fallout she must try to live with and live through.

This is a novel of love and evil; fairy tale and stark reality. It is confronting and challenging yet intensely readable and thoughtful. This is writing truly at its best, full of confidence and subtly that not only sucks you in as a reader but sets you up brilliantly for some expertly done changes of pace and tone. The perfect start to my 2016 reading.

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Review: Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

9781846556975Stuart Neville takes his writing up another notch in his latest thought-provoking and tragic crime novel.

This isn’t a crime novel where a mystery needs to be solved or a vicious killer is stalking victims, although you are kept guessing at different times. This is a crime novel about what happens afterwards, after a crime has been committed and punishment has been handed out and served. It is about what happens to those who were involved and how they deal with the consequences.

Ciaran and Thomas Devine were convicted of the murder of their foster-father seven years ago. Ciaran, 12-years-old at the time, confessed to the murder and his older brother Thomas was convicted of being an accessory. They have both done their time. Thomas was released two years ago and 19-year-old Ciaran has just been granted parole.

Ciaran’s release causes shock waves. The son of the victim is outraged and can barely control his rage at their release. Accusations were levelled by the brothers which have caused him great distress in the years since the murder.  The detective who took Ciaran’s confession is also concerned. She had doubts about Ciaran’s confession and believes he confessed to ensure Thomas received a lighter sentence. She knows his older brother holds enormous power over the him. Caught in the middle is Ciaran’s probation officer who must help Ciaran adjust to society on the outside. Ciaran went away as a child and although he is now grown up he is still every bit the scared little boy from seven years ago. On his release he immediately gravitates towards Thomas, who was released earlier, and trouble is not far behind the two brothers.

Stuart Neville has constructed a very original crime thriller that skillfully demonstrates that a crime story doesn’t ever end. The effects are always long-lasting and neither truth nor justice can ever provide the closure required by those left behind.

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Stuart Neville 3-for-2 offer

 

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9780099535348The Twelve

I almost missed reading this book. Published in 2009 it has only just been releases here. I was reluctant to pick it up because “debut thriller of the year” gets thrown around a far bit and I am very skeptical. However in the case of THE TWELVE it is not marketing or publicity that has come up with the statement because it is more than true. This is not just one of the best thriller debuts of the last ten years; it is one of the best thrillers of the last ten years full stop.

THE TWELVE blends together seamlessly some of my favourite elements of crime fiction. It is political (without choosing sides), it is violent, it has heart and it is wickedly funny in places. It also reminds me of some of my favourite authors while being completely original. While reading the book Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen and the DEXTER series all came to mind as well as the film THE DEPARTED and the TV series RESCUE ME.

The main character of the book is Gerry Fegan, an ex-IRA hit man who has just done a 9 and a half year stretch in Maze prison. Prison has changed him but not like you would think. Gerry is haunted by the crimes he has committed, literally. He is followed by twelve ghosts of people he has killed. He can see, hear and feel the ghosts all the time and they will not let him sleep. Even whiskey doesn’t help and Gerry is seen as a crazy drunk who talk to himself all day.

Gerry tries confessing to one of his victim’s relatives in an effort to free himself from these unwanted spirits but that only get him into trouble with his old bosses. But that’s when he finds out what his ghost want him to do, they want revenge. As Gerry counts down his ghosts, his actions threaten to tear apart Northern Ireland’s new found peace. This means he must be stopped, making this one hell of an explosive thriller.

Collusion

9780099535355OK so I thought THE TWELVE was freakin’ awesome but COLLUSION takes it up another notch. The now ghost-less (but still haunted) Gerry Fegan has escaped Northern Ireland to New York but his trail of destruction and its consequences still reverberates around Belfast. Interestingly Gerry takes a backseat in this book.  We’re introduced to Detective Inspector Jack Lennon (who happens to be the briefly mentioned ex-girlfriend of one of THE TWELVE’s main characters) and we meet an even more twisted hitman known as The Traveller.

I love when a series follows a non- linear path and at first you think COLLUSION is a Jack Lennon novel. But one of Lennon’s cases has links to what happened in THE TWELVE and when he learns his ex-girlfriend and estranged daughter were somehow involved he is determined to find out what happened. When those that survived THE TWELVE start turning up dead Lennon is put on a collision course with The Traveller who has been cleaning up loose ends.

The action is again incredible and the twists are devilish. With a title like COLLUSION you have no idea which side anyone is really on. All the elements that made THE TWELVE great are still here and I am still trying to catch my breath after the ending. Seriously if you love action/thrillers you HAVE to read Stuart Neville.

Stolen Souls

9781846554520Stuart Neville is fast becoming one of my favourite crime writers. THE TWELVE blew me away and COLLUSION was an excellent follow-up and now he continues the brilliance with STOLEN SOULS.

Jack Lennon again features and he is trying to balance the pieces if his life that are left in the aftermath of the last book. But the central character is Galya, an illegal immigrant from The Ukraine who has been deceived into coming to Ireland for work but the job she has been ‘sold’ into is not what she signed up for.

STOLEN SOULS is in essence a chase novel. The book opens with Galya having just killed a ‘client’. Unfortunately the ‘client’ is the brother of a very important and ruthless man. She must now out run his revenge but ends up jumping out of the fry pan into a very vicious fire.

Meanwhile Jack is left to clean up the trail of destruction and try and figure out what is going on. Neville again mixes up unpredictable action with both flawed and despicable characters. Get on the Stuart Neville bandwagon now because this guy is going to be huge.

Grab all three books for $35.98 (rrp $19.95 each)

and don’t miss the new book in the series, The Final Silence out July 17

Review- In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

9781846688201Every great trilogy knocks you out with the first one, takes it up a notch with the second one and then blows you away with the final chapter. There a few great trilogies. Many fail at the second hurdle let alone the final one. But not Adrian McKinty. The Sean Duffy books are a truly great trilogy and destined to become a classic of the crime genre and the third and the final volume is the best yet.

Things were not looking good for our hero at the end of I Hear The Sirens In The Streets. Sean Duffy had been demoted out of CID and dispatched to the border lands. His career in the police force appeared to be over. That is until a mass breakout occurs from the infamous Maze Prison in September, 1983. One of the IRA’s most dangerous men, Dermot McCann, is on the loose and planning a campaign of terror against Britain. MI5 are prepared to do anything to bring him in, including giving Sean his old job back.

Sean has a connection to Dermot but no one is giving anybody up in Northern Ireland. Sean’s digging instead leads him to an unsolved murder. A locked room mystery that has got everybody stumped. But the key to unearthing Dermot’s whereabouts maybe be found in unlocking this seemingly unsolvable mystery.

As with the previous two books McKinty skillfully blends humour and the grim realities of living in war torn Belfast in 1984 with a gripping, realistic mystery. Sean Duffy is perfectly flawed and damaged but determined to do the right thing, even if that means doing a couple of wrong things. It is a tragedy that this series must come to an end because what McKinty has been able to produce has been quite special and he has taken his writing to a new level. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both. McKinty has not only been able to pull it off brilliantly but he has done so over three amazing books.

I’m going to miss Sean Duffy but I also can’t wait to see where Adrian McKinty goes next.

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The twists and turns come as thick and fast as the action and keep you guessing right up to the last page.

9780099552581Review – Ratlines by Stuart Neville

I love a good World War Two thriller and am a sucker for Irish crime so to get both in one was something I was never expecting. Ireland’s role in the Second World War is rarely mentioned in history books. Ireland officially remained neutral during what they called ‘The Emergency’ but there was a high amount of anti-British feeling amongst stout republicans. This meant that there was even a pro-German sentiment during the war which led to Ireland being a place of refuge for Nazis and Axis collaborators after the war. One Nazi that settled in Ireland was Otto Skorzeny, an SS Colonel who famously rescued Mussolini in 1943. Stuart Neville takes these facts and weaves an impressive historical thriller.

Set in 1963, John F. Kennedy’s historical visit of Ireland is only weeks away. Ireland’s politicians are determined that his visit will be without incident. So when three foreign nationals with shady pasts are found murdered the mess needs to be cleaned up as quickly as possible. Lieutenant Albert Ryan, who fought for the British during the Second World War and has been shunned for doing so, is tasked with protecting Otto Skorzeny who has been singled out as the next target.

Ryan must choose between his country, which has treated him poorly, and his own moral code as he must protect a man whose ideals he fought against in the war. At the same time as dealing with this internal struggle Ryan must discover who is targeting ex-Nazis and why. He also needs to workout who he can really trust because everyone has their own motives and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

This is a superb read. The twists and turns come as thick and fast as the action and keep you guessing right up to the last page. I found the historical stuff as fascinating and gripping as the fiction in between and hope we see more of Lieutenant Albert Ryan in the future.

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Review – The Cold, Cold Ground & I Hear The Sirens In The Street

9781846688232The Cold, Cold Ground

I have been a fan of Adrian McKinty ever since I picked up DEAD I WELL MAY BE. I knew he had me hooked the moment Michael Forsythe began listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind on a New York Subway Train. I’ve always had a soft spot for Irish writers but that book took my breath away and I’ve eagerly awaited every book since. His new book begins with a reference to my favourite novel, THE THIN RED LINE by James Jones, and I knew straight away he had me. And no exaggeration, this is one of the best crime novels I have ever read. McKinty’s last books, FALLING GLASS, was superb but THE COLD, COLD GROUND blew me utterly away. It is easily his best book to date and is also the start of a new trilogy. I cannot wait to see where he takes it.

Set in Belfast, 1981 McKinty immerses you completely in the time and place. Right from the opening pages you are put smack in the middle of the riots and the hunger strikes. Belfast is a war zone where law and order aren’t worth the bricks they’re graffiti’d on. Sean Duffy is a Catholic detective in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). This and his ‘charm’ make him a magnet for trouble and he is posted to relatively quite Carrickfergus (relative to Belfast not anywhere else).

Through Duffy, McKinty explores the absurdity of ‘The Troubles’, the hypocrisy on both sides, the ignorant hatred and the politics of self-interest from Irish and British alike.

In the midst of all this a killer on the loose targeting homosexuals. The media isn’t focused on the murders and in a country where homosexuality is illegal and the paramilitaries on both sides have a zero-tolerance attitude there is nothing but apathy to the case. Except of course from Sean Duffy.

This all sounds very bleak but the novel is littered with brilliant humour. Duffy is a real smart-arse particularly when he shouldn’t be and the banter amongst the cops and between the various paramilitary groups is highly entertaining and stops you falling into a well of despair. The ending, as always with McKinty, is an absolute cracker with a wee taste of things to come.

This book is what crime writing is all about. A mystery to keep you guessing, plotted to make you turn the pages as fast as you can but the heart of the story is the place the characters inhabit and the complicated mess in which they must exist and by the end you’re not concerned with who did it or if justice is done because your mind has been opened up to a much bigger picture which can never be black and white. Bravo Adrian McKinty.

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9781846688188I Hear The Sirens In The Street

The second installment of the Sean Duffy trilogy is set a year later in 1982. The Hunger Strikes maybe over but Belfast is still well and truly deep in The Troubles. When Britain goes to war with Argentina over the Falklands the tensions and dangers only increase. Sean Duffy’s nose for trouble is still acute but if he can’t find trouble he can certainly stir it up. The novel opens with Duffy doing just that which leads him to finding a torso in a suitcase. Being Northern Ireland there are a myriad of possibilities and Duffy won’t leave any stone unturned no matter whose toes he tramples on.

McKinty again drops you smack bang into Belfast with all the sights and sounds of 1982 as well as what was effectively a war zone. The brilliantly plotted crime mystery is infused with wickedly black humour and the politics of Northern Ireland has the added complexity of Britain being distracted and America taking an unofficial interest. The book also centers around the DeLorean Factory (the car from Back To The Future) and the economics of a war torn city.

I’ve loved all Adrian McKinty’s books but there is something special about this trilogy he is creating. This trilogy will go down as one of the absolute classics of the crime genre and I’m already dying to see how the trilogy ends especially after reading the small preview you’re given at then end of this book. These books are why I love the crime genre. It goes places other fiction rarely dares and it takes you there from different perspectives while thoroughly entertaining you at the same time.

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