'There are many tense moments this week'
There are many tense moments this week, notably one novel about an Irish serial killer looking for fresh blood. There’s also the story of a pact between two women, each agreeing to kill for the other. There’s an unusual take on a Shakespearean tragedy, there’s murder at a book festival, there’s a terrible accident with horrific consequences for a mother, and there’s a young Irish emigrant fleeing the famine for America.
Kill for Me Kill for You, Steve Cavanagh, Headline, €14.99
Bestseller Cavanagh leaves his lawyer character Eddie Flynn to one side and exits the courtroom to spin a breathtaking yarn on two women, both left bereft by two murderers with watertight alibis although they’re the obvious culprits, who meet in a bereavement support group and form a pact. Wendy will kill the man who took Amanda’s husband and child, if Amanda returns the favour and kills the man who murdered Wendy’s daughter. Simple, what?
Nah, not so simple. And because this is Cavanagh, there are more bends in the road than you can count. And there’s a cop that smells a rat. His nickname is St Jude because he always cracks a case, even the seemingly hopeless ones. A very different novel from Cavanagh’s Eddie Flynn series, this is a triumphant breakout.
The Whispers, Ashley Audrain, Michael Joseph, €15.99
Audrain’s debut The Push got tongues wagging in 2021, when a mother suffers similar anxiety to the mam in Lionel Shriver’s chilling We Need to Talk About Kevin. This is vaguely familiar territory, but here the mother is at the bedside of her young son, Xavier, found on the ground underneath his upstairs bedroom window and critically injured. Months beforehand, the neighbours in this leafy neighbourhood heard mother Whitney reading the riot act to Xavier in savage terms. And the whispers are, of course, those of her neighbours who wonder if she had any part to play in Xavier’s fall. This novel is an exploration of the darker side of motherhood, and indeed of suburbia, where the women who seem to ‘have it all’ actually have precious little. It’s a disturbing read but utterly compelling.
Death Writes, Andrea Carter, Corvus, €16.99
In her sixth novel involving sleuth/solicitor Ben O’Keefe, Carter returns to the Inishowen Peninsula, where the local book festival is proud to present Booker-winning author and recluse Gavin Featherstone, who will read from his yet to be published memoir. Featherstone collapses and dies while on stage, and although it’s first thought to be natural causes, it transpires to be murder. Enter Ben’s sometimes boyfriend Garda Tom Molloy. Ben has been entrusted with the dead man’s will, but his assistant turns up with a different one, containing very different information. And Featherstone’s memoir manuscript has gone missing.
Ben is also having trouble with a disturbing situation involving her elderly parents and the pace never lets up in this taut, tense whodunnit, set in the beautiful coastal wilderness of Donegal.
Fair Rosaline, Natasha Solomons, Manilla Press, €15.99
In a dark new take on a dark old Shakespearean tragedy, we meet Rosaline, cousin of Juliet Capulet. Roseline is utterly entranced with Romeo Montague but is soon to be sent to a convent by her father. Juliet hasn’t yet appeared to turn Romeo’s head and Rosaline is flattered by his rather ardent attention. She’s vulnerable too, as she’s lost her mother to the plague that’s sweeping Verona. But as this relationship progresses, Rosaline sees another side to Romeo and she ends the relationship. When he later takes up with cousin Juliet, Rosaline realises that it’s not just Juliet’s reputation that’s at stake, it might just be her life.
This is a brilliant and convincing flight of fancy, authentic and evocative of its time and place and might just get you thinking twice about poor ol’ Romeo.
The Trap, Catherine Ryan Howard, Bantam, €14.99
The tabloids regularly remind us that the prime suspect for the missing women in this country’s ‘Vanishing Triangle’ is a free man, working in England under a pseudonym. Ryan Howard runs with the idea that the culprit still lives in the midlands and she creates fictional characters for the long list of missing women. One such character is a sister of a girl who’s among the missing and, in a foolhardy plot to recreate her sister’s last known movements, she hopes to ensnare the murderer. She gets more than she bargained for. Lots more.
From the start, this novel is a heart-stopper and you’re hoping throughout that this monster, but seemingly innocuous family man, will get what’s coming to him. On the way there are red herrings and macguffins galore, but every tiny detail adds to the atmosphere and Ryan’s flair for building tension is second to none. Her best novel yet.
Sing, Wild Bird, Sing, Jacqueline O’Mahony, Lake Union, €11.99
In her critically acclaimed debut novel, a River in the Trees, O’Mahony told two stories, involving two women 100 years apart. Here, in a novel inspired by the Doolough Famine Walk, she concentrates on the historical element, introducing Honora O’Donoghue, who has lost her family to the famine. She manages to escape to America, where she first works as a maid in New York but later, after moving to Oregon, ends up in the oldest profession in the world.
She manages to extricate herself from this nightmare and encounters the Cayuse tribe of Native Americans, who, like the Irish back home, have endured centuries of suffering under colonialism. This is a sweeping historical saga, evocative and intensely lyrical, bringing to mind Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, where young Thomas McNulty also flees the famine for North America. The language is authentic, while the scenes in Ireland are harrowing, although we are reminded that poverty wasn’t limited to Ireland’s famine or Dickens’s London. America was equally hostile to its poor. A wondrous read.
The autumn season of events in local arts centres, theatres and public libraries is in full swing countrywide. Check out what’s on near you and remember while some events are free, they may be ticketed.
Dublin Festival of History continues until September 26, with lots of events still to come. See dublinfestivalofhistory.ie for programme and tickets.
Should you find yourself veering west this week, the Clifden Arts Festival continues until this coming Sunday the 24th with lots of events still to go. See clifdenartsfestival.ie for details and tickets.