Happy St. Patrick’s Day. It seems like a good time to remind everyone of some of the great crime fiction by Irish authors. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order. I know there are many more, and I apologize to fans of those I have neglected.
KEN BRUEN: Best known for his series featuring Jack Taylor, a former policeman now working as a private investigator in Galway. UK Publishers Weekly said of this series “at heart [it] is about one man’s reckoning with a lifetime of pain and loss in a rapidly changing Ireland.” I enjoy the dark humor, and also the fact that Galway, which my own Irish ancestors left in 1840, makes living in New Jersey seem absolutely idyllic. The Tower, a stand-alone written with American author Reed Farrel Coleman, is a customer favorite.
STUART NEVILLE: I do not normally like supernatural elements in fiction, but when I read Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast (UK title The Twelve) I was convinced of the power of victims of violence to extract their revenge from beyond the grave. Two more books follow in the series, Collusion and Stolen Souls, featuring Detective Inspector Jack Lennon. “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland leave a legacy that extends past the peace and to the United States.
TANA FRENCH: Although she was born in the United States and has lived all over the world, French has adopted Dublin as her home, and thus qualifies as an Irish author. Her series featuring Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox has plots complicated by local history, family feuds and tangled relationships. Her portrayals of residents of small Irish towns and insular Dublin neighborhoods, who cope with the restrictions of their lives in complex ways, are worth savoring, even if the plots can be a little farfetched.
BENJAMIN BLACK: Mainstream novelist John Banville uses the pseudonym “Benjamin Black” for his forays into the mystery genre. His detective, Quirke, has appeared in five novels, beginning with Christine Falls. Quirke, a pathologist in 1950’s Dublin, is burdened with both curiosity and a sense of responsibility to those he finds on his autopsy table. Black sticks to the structural conventions of the genre while evoking a gritty, repressed and depressed post-war Dublin.
JOHN CONNOLLY: Here is an Irish-born author who has stayed in his native country, yet writes about a private eye in Maine. Charlie Parker is haunted by the spirits of his murdered wife and daughter, and his desire to find their killer leads him to very dark places. I have already confessed my discomfort with the supernatural in fiction, yet Connolly’s books are so compelling that I choose to live with that discomfort as I read. His work is so intense, however, that I have to take him in small doses, and read a lot of more “down to earth” fiction in between.
PETER TREMAYNE: For lovers of historical mysteries. Although Tremayne is English, his academic achievement in the area of Celtic Studies under his real name, Peter Berresford Ellis, and his popular mystery series featuring Sister Fidelma, a former member of the religious community of St. Brigid of Kildare, qualify him to be Irish today. Fidelma is an advocate in the law courts of 7th century Ireland. Ireland at that time was a beacon of light while most of Europe was in the “Dark Ages.” Students flocked to Irish universities; women were equal to men in learning and power. And Fidelma uses her knowledge and advocacy skills to do justice in twenty-three novels.
BARTHOLOMEW GILL: Another American born lover of the Old Sod. Gill’s real name was Mark McGarrity. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and had homes in both Dublin and New Jersey. Although he passed away in 2002, and many of his books are out of print, it is worth mining the library or your local used book store for his work. His detective, Chief Inspector Peter McGarr is a solver of puzzles in the classic mode, and his knowledge of Irish esoterica is usually the key to the crime.
Even if you are not Irish, everyone is today. I have barely touched the surface of Irish crime fiction here, and there are numerous lists of authors and books available. It’s a good month to try an Irish book, whether you enjoy noir, historicals, cozies or thrillers. Erin go Bragh!