Books Ireland Debut Roundup, May 2018

Posted by Sue Leonard on Friday 15th June 2018

The Ruin Dervla McTiernan. Sphere.

Garda Cormac Reilly feels stuck. Thirty years into a promising career, he leaves his job in the Special Detective Unit’s anti-terrorist division in Dublin, and follows his scientist wife, Emma, to Galway. He’s happy to do so, because she has secured the job of her dreams, but his transfer to the Mill Street Station is far from satisfactory: in fact, it’s depressingly mundane.

He watches the hierarchal struggles with interest but is frustrated to be given only cold cases to sort out, and ones with little hope of a resolution. With Emma working long hours, he gets lonely, and spends time with Danny, a garda he trained with back in Templemore, who seems to get the cold shoulder from his colleagues.

Then Cormac is handed a cold case he’s familiar with. As a raw recruit, he’d been sent to a minor domestic in Mayo, and found a scene that has haunted him ever since. A fifteen-year-old girl and her small brother clung to each other, downstairs in a ruined mansion, whilst their mother, a long-term alcoholic, lay upstairs, dead. There’s clearly been neglect, and abuse. The boy, Jack, was subsequently taken into care, and later adopted, but his sister ran away and has not been seen since.

Fast forward to the present; Jack’s body has been found in the canal – an apparent suicide, yet that doesn’t really make sense. At least not to his sister, Maud, who has re-appeared, and is convinced that the Garda haven’t investigated the case thoroughly enough. But why is Maud then arrested, and what possible link could there be between the two cases?

Meanwhile, Aishling, the grieving partner of Jack, has problems of her own to consider.  A fabulously drawn character, she is a doctor with ambitions towards surgery, but she has an important decision to make.

A lot of excitement preceded the launch of this debut, and it’s not hard to see why. Originally from Cork, Dervla McTiernan worked as a lawyer for years, and this experience has clearly informed her writing. Not only is this a character driven debut, with wonderful detail of life within hospitals, as well as in Garda stations, it’s a humdinger of a story as well.

McTiernan alternates the narration between Cormac and Aishling, and this provides a brilliant balance. The book has all, and more of the requisite twists, but what’s so great about it, is that everything rings true.

I read it when I was snowed in, in March, and, whilst surprised by the ending, found that it made perfect sense. This is the first of a series featuring Garda Cormac Reilly – I can’t wait to read the next one. A star crime writer is born!


Silence under a Stone. Norma MacMaster. Transworld Ireland.

It’s 1982, and Harriet Campbell lies in a residential home reminiscing over the events of her life. It’s been far from a happy one. She was virtually forced into marriage with a man she was terrified of, when she was just sixteen, and he, a rough farmer, was 31. Living on a small farm South of the Irish border, life was rough, and Harriet had few friends.

Back then, there is just one thing that keeps her going, and that’s her love of God, and adherence to the Presbyterian Church. And when her husband, Thomas, is made an elder of the church, this is a source of huge pride to Harriet. As she helps him to study for the honour, the two develop a closeness they have never known before.

Meanwhile, Harriet gives birth to a son, James. He becomes her life, and when Thomas insists that they employ Anna May, a Catholic, to help her in the house, she determines to keep the woman away from James, for fear she might, pollute his mind. And her fears are realised, when she notices that the young girl is, indeed, instructing James into the mysteries of the Roman Catholic faith. Why is Thomas so blind to this?

Norma MacMaster writes beautifully and knows her subject well. Born in County Cavan in 1936, she recently became a Church of Ireland Minister. Her knowledge shows, as the apparently insurmountable differences between the two religions come in for discussion. It was intriguing to learn of Presbyterianism, the harsh rules, and hierarchal lodges. But what happens if a loved one decides to break away?

Now in her eighties, MacMaster has left novel writing late, but she’s been a member of a writing group for many years, and this experience shows. She writes lyrically, with wonderful descriptions of scenery and characters.

This debut is not heavy on plot; little happens in the course of the 280 pages, and there’s no violence or bloodshed, yes this is a quite horrifying read. There’s a quiet menace borne of hatred and intolerance, and this seeps into the reader’s mind more powerfully than any physical horror would.

We’re in Harriet’s head for the duration, and it’s not a comfortable place to be. It’s terrifying to see a woman’s love dissipate in the name of religion.  It’s difficult to have empathy for her, but that’s not an issue. This gracefully written debut about choices, illuminates the tensions that led to the Northern Irish Troubles, and for that, alone, it is well worth reading.


The Missing Ones. Patricia Gibney. Sphere.

It’s December 2014, when a woman’s body is found in a cathedral. Then a man who worked with her in the civil service is found hanged. What is the connection? Could it have something to do with St Angela’s, a former children’s home which is currently the subject of a property deal?

Early leads point to connections with a syndicate containing a representative from all the professions who were vilified as carrying the blame for Ireland’s financial and moral collapse. There’s a property developer; a banker; a Bishop; and a council worker with a love of the brown envelope.

Detective Lottie Parker is put in charge of the investigation, but her mind isn’t always on the job. She’s been struggling to cope since the early death of her husband, and is trying, but sometimes failing, to control an unfortunate alcohol habit. No wonder her teenage children, largely neglected, look set to run wild.

The Missing Ones was published, digitally, last year, before being picked up by a traditional publisher. Two more digital imprints, also featuring Lottie Parker followed, and the first of these, will be in a print edition soon.

All the elements we expect from a modern thriller are here; a flawed female detective, and a bit of frisson between her and her male sidekick. There’s a high enough body count, plenty of twists to keep the reader on their toes, and a dramatic, if, to this reader, predictable, conclusion.

The Missing Ones isn’t especially original; many writers have tackled the thorny issues she covers here, but Gibney does have a new slant on things. And if most of the subsidiary characters felt a bit half baked, and acted, too often, in ways that defied any sense or logic, that’s okay for a book which is so heavy on plot. If you’re seeking an engaging yarn to pass the hours, look no further. I flew through it!

Published In Books Ireland. June, 2018.

© Sue Leonard. 2018


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