Despite our literary reputation, Ireland does not have a long history in the genre of crime fiction. However, over the past couple of decades there has been an explosion of Irish crime writers winning awards and enjoying success both at home and abroad, although many choose to set their work outside of Ireland, often in the States.
One exception is Jo Spain, author of the Inspector Tom Reynolds series. Her debut novel With our Blessing, published in 2015, is an uncomfortable but utterly gripping read which explores a shameful episode in our past. When the body of an elderly woman is found crucified in the Phoenix Park, it emerges that the woman was a nun. Inspector Tom Reynolds and his team realise that they may have a personal vendetta on their hands when they discover that the dead woman was Mother Superior in a rural convent outside Limerick which housed one of the notorious Magdalen Laundry mother-and-baby homes. Spain’s books are brilliantly written page-turners, with a real edge.
There is a view that in order for crime fiction to flourish in Northern Ireland, the conflict had to end. And although Stuart Neville’s debut The Twelve is set in Belfast after the start of the peace process, it is still a chilling depiction of sectarian violence. Part thriller and part ghost story, it tells the tale of former IRA hitman and heavy drinker Gerry Fegan, who is haunted by the twelve people he has killed during the troubles. The ghosts are seeking revenge and have selected Fegan as the instrument of that revenge. The Twelve is a book that stayed with me long after I finished it.
Eoin MacNamee, Booker-nominated for his novel Blue Tango, is a beautiful, lyrical writer. I particularly loved Orchid Blue (part of the Blue trilogy) which explores the murder of nineteen-year old Pearl Gambol, a real-life crime which led to the last public hanging in Northern Ireland. It is an atmospheric novel full of lilting, rhythmic prose.
It is impossible to leave out the wonderful Tana French when discussing crime fiction set in Ireland. Her debut In the Woods was a huge success but my favourite of hers remains The Likeness in which detective Cassie Maddox goes undercover to investigate the death of Lexie Madison, a woman who is her doppelganger. She moves into the woman’s house and the resulting story is eerie and claustrophobic as she finds herself torn between with her commitment to investigate and her developing relationship with the dead woman’s house-mates, who are suspects in the murder. Almost a gothic tale.
The Convictions of John Delahunt set in Victorian Dublin and written by archivist Andrew Hughes tells the true story of a paid informer for Dublin Castle who is convicted of the murder of a child. Packed with vivid period detail but with a lightness of touch which allows the murder mystery to develop, it also has a contemporary resonance: Delahunt is working as an informer because he has lost his home to the banks.
There are so many other novels and writers I could have chosen for this list, but I wanted to reflect the array of sub-genres existing in Irish crime writing today: thriller, police procedural, whodunit, psychological, historical.
My own books are traditional mysteries, with a murder at the beginning, a limited cast of suspects and a solution at the end, but with an emphasis on place. My story starts with setting and so I couldn’t imagine locating my books anywhere but Ireland. And the sea-ravaged coastline of the wonderful and remote Inishowen peninsula in Co. Donegal, with its towering headlands, long white beaches, deserted forts and small communities were ideal for the books that I wanted to write.
Treacherous Strand by Andrea Carter is published by Constable, £8.99