Celtic noir: Three Irish murder mysteries

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Back in my Celtic Noir phase.

Just finished Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen.

Before that The Nameless Dead and Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway.

Love Bruen’s style.

Sorta like the start of this blog post.

Goes beyond clipped and fragmented sentences.

Typographically, his novels are visually unique too.

Makes for a really quick, exciting read.

Once Were Cops is about a member of the Garda in Ireland who gets a temporary assignment with the New York Police Department as part of an exchange program.

Matthew Patrick O’Shea draws a brutal partner with a hidden vulnerable side. Shea, on the other hand, is a charmer with a hidden brutal side.

Neither has any impulse control, and that makes it dangerous for anyone around them.

In Once Were Cops, only the dead or soon to be dead can be trusted. If they can still draw breath, they can’t be trusted.

I discovered McGilloway when I picked up his first detective novel, Borderlands, in a Dublin bookstore so I could have something to read on the flight home. So far, I haven’t found McGilloway in American book stores. But each time I’m in Ireland or the UK I pick up whatever he’s written since my last trip.

McGilloway provides a counterbalance to any notion of how charming and beautiful you think Ireland is after a few days of museums and pubs in Dublin and bicycling around the Beara Peninsula in the west, enjoying more Guinness and traditional Irish music in the evenings.

McGilloway’s stories are set at an Irish crossroads of many kinds. The IRA has more or less laid aside its guns. The Celtic economic boom is over. Many have lost their dreams in the housing bust. Purpose has been lost in a haze of alcohol, drugs and crime. Religious faith falls victim to trust betrayed and modern reality. And the porous border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a sort of economic opportunity zone for criminals of the sort Detective Inspector Benedict Devlin pursues back and forth.

In The Nameless Dead, a detail is dispatched to search for the body of Declan Cleary, who disappeared during the Troubles. But under the terms of an agreement to bring closure for grieving families, no prosecution can be based on whatever is found.

But in addition to Cleary’s body, the bodies of a number of infants are found as well. At first it is thought that the area is a cillin, an unmarked burial ground for babies who died before they could be baptized. Because they were never baptized, a now discredited church tradition prohibited their burial in consecrated ground.

But these babes died too recently for their corner of a lonely river island to be a cillin. And they all had skeletal deformities in their skulls.

Devlin, of course, ignores the rules that prevent him from investigating anything discovered during a search for a disappeared, and soon the son Cleary never met and others Devlin links to the island burial site start turning up dead as well.

In Little Girl Lost, McGilloway introduces a female lead, Detective Sgt. Lucy Black, who gets called out to a lonely wooded area by a trucker who has run off a snowy road and sees a young girl at the edge of the woods. Black finds the shoeless, silent girl, uninjured but bloodstained, and slowly earns her trust. Over the next few days, Black figures out who she is and discovers that she is the key to unlocking the mystery of the kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy businessman.

Along the way, Black must deal with the head of CID who wants to keep her around but not really, with her mother, a high ranking cop herself, and with an aging father suffering from dementia who keeps mistaking her for someone named Janet. Ultimately, the only one she can trust is a supervisor of a crimes against children unit who has been parked in a career cul de sac for years,

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