November’s Best Mystery and Non-Fiction Fiction – The Irish Times

Fiction set during the Troubles and post-conflict years in Northern Ireland has delivered some of the most memorable Irish crime fiction of the past decade. Anthony J Quinn and his impressive series of Tyrone novels starring PSNI Detective Celsius Daly have been at the forefront of investigating the recent past, but in Murder Memory Murder (Dalzell Press, £11.99) Quinn takes her investigations on a whole different plane.

The story is rooted in two unsolved murders that affected Quinn’s own family, one of which occurred during the Revolutionary War, the other in 1982 when the Quinn family’s home was invaded. by IRA men who hijacked the family car and then used it during an operation in which they shot dead an off-duty RUC policeman. Recovered from a bullet at the start of the men of the IRA, as a warning against the alert of the authorities, the young Anthony Quinn remained traumatized, the shock still resonating 40 years later.

Now a critically acclaimed detective novelist, Quinn is frustrated with the limitations of fiction, and his own too: “Each detective story poses its own technical problems, which must be solved by plot and the inferences of figure of the detective, but my detective didn’t seem to have much talent for investigating, or was it the writer who lacked talent? And so Quinn sets out – in defiance of the received wisdom not to rock the boat in the rural parishes of Tyrone where “the troubles had not yet ended” – to uncover the identity of the IRA man who handed him the ball. The result is a jaw-droppingly brutal piece of true crime writing that is ruthless in exposing the truth, no matter who it might implicate or whether it might confirm Quinn’s own suspicions of his own failure in as a writer.

The first mystery novel by Peter Papathanasiou Stoning, starring DS George Manolis, is set in the Australian Outback. In the unseen (MacLehose, £16.99) an exhausted Manolis returns home to northern Greece and specifically to the Prespa region, which is ‘a wild border’ between Greece, Albania and North Macedonia . There he finds his childhood friend Lefty missing, unsurprisingly – Lefty, according to Manolis himself, is “a shape-shifter, a chameleon with no moral compass”. If anyone were to light the fuse of anarchy, it would be Lefty. And so, a weary Manolis, disguising himself as a manual laborer, embarks on a covert investigation to find out the whereabouts of Lefty, a tricky proposition among Prespa’s permanently wary populace, who are “Greece’s misfits, descendants of war and exile”. What follows is a quirky missing person investigation, during which Manolis is reminded that “Lefty” is the nickname of Lefteris, or Freedom; that is, people who go missing in Prespa don’t always want to be found. Which give the unseen Added weight is Papathanaisou’s superb descriptions of the landscape and character of Prespa, a place where bears and wolves still roam the hills. The supposedly suspicious and cloistered people of Prespa seem surprisingly willing to answer our hero’s questions – and he asks for a plot questions – but otherwise the unseen is a classic gumshoe yarn in a fascinating setting.

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” DCI Terry Balance tells us at the start of Tariq Godard Great John the Conqueror (Repeater, £12.99), “but I became a policeman instead”. Set in Wessex in 2016, Godard’s novel opens with the disappearance of Iggy Lockheart, “the sixth youngster to disappear this year from Hanging Hill”.

Hanging Hill, alas, is a poor area where children tend to go missing on a regular basis without much police interest. But when a grieving mother tells Terry that “fancy people are taking our kids,” working-class Terry and her DCI partner Tamla Sioux – “the new kind [of cop] who had watched the movies you hadn’t seen and who probably had degrees in psychology and screenwriting” – sit down and take note.

What follows is a dark and hilarious adventure through contemporary Britain that uses detective fiction to confuse all manner of pretense and hypocrisy (Iggy Lockheart’s disappearance is overlooked due to the Queen’s upcoming royal visit ). A dark, irreverent and impressionistic take on detective procedurals reminiscent of Mick Herron’s Slough House and Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child novels, High John the Conqueror belatedly lays claim to the most original crime novel of the year.

Set in Argentina, the first novel by Paula Rodriguez urgent matters, translated by Sarah Moses (Pushkin Vertigo, £12.99) opens with a train wreck that proves a blessing in disguise for Hugo Victor Lamadrid, a petty criminal who views his miraculous survival as an opportunity to escape a lifetime spent running at the request of her mother-in-law, Olga. Unfortunately, Hugo counted without the police inspector Dominguez, a phenomenally successful and relentless investigator even if – or perhaps because – “human relations are a mystery which escapes him”.

Written in the taut, crisp style of classic pulp noir, and proceeding through brief chapters that offer a variety of viewpoints – those of Hugo, his companion Marta and their daughter Evelyn, as well as those of Dominguez, Olga and Marta’s religious sister Monica – the story unfolds at a breakneck pace as Hugo moves from hope to despair to dreams of an unlikely redemption that he probably would have given up at first if he had taken the time to listen to his sister-in-law, Monica: “Salvation is not free. Someone must suffer the injuries. God doesn’t save you like that, because salvation is not a social plan.

Irish Criminal Correspondent of the Year in 2021, Michael O’Toole’s Black light (Maverick House, €16.99) is the hardest first Irish mystery novel in years. Operating out of Broadstone Garda station, John Lazarus is an Italian-Irish detective who specializes in investigating sex crimes, partly as a self-imposed penance for failing to prevent the rape and murder of his beloved sister. Gabriella a few years ago.

When student Anne Delaney is raped and left for dead after a brutal assault, Lazarus takes the call and soon comes face to face with Ireland’s most charismatic crime reporter, Conor Sullivan, who seems to have an uncanny knowledge of details of the attack. Lazarus is an irritating and self-aggrandizing character at times – he describes himself, without irony, as “dark and brooding” and “an Irish Al Pacino” – but overall, Black Light is an incredibly gritty start, thanks in large part to to O’Toole’s knowledge. of the grim realities of Irish policing and detective journalism.

  • Declan Burke is an author and journalist. His current novel is The Lammisters (No Alibis Press)

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