by Sharon Tucker
As March begins you should be stocking the pantry to prepare tasty Irish dishes on and around St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th. Taking it a step farther, may I suggest a trio of Irish authors for your reading delectation as well? Read any or all of these authors in addition to cooking up and enjoying your colcannon, skirts and kidneys, crubeens, coddles, or just tucking into a simple Ulster fry with or without black pudding.
Melancholy threads its way through much of Celtic literature, and tales of the troubles inevitably cast a pall over Irish writing from the late 1960s until 1998 with the Belfast “Good Friday Agreement.” Sadly, sporadic outbreaks of violence still erupt, since feeling still runs high in Northern Ireland between designates of Northern Ireland’s nationalist community and its unionist community. These issues haunt the writing of Adrian McKinty and Bartholomew Gill, the first two authors under consideration, but not so much the work of Gemma O’Connor whose work is often compared to that of Minette Walters. All three writers share an obvious love of the countryside of Ireland, as well as the music of the Celtic language, and a flair for unique storytelling.
McKinty’s Dead I Well May Be, precursor of his The Troubles Trilogy of novels, strikes an intriguing balance between the genres of thriller and mystery, leaning a bit more toward the former. Michael Forsythe, in first person narration, waxes Joycean in this bad-boy tale–next to no punctuation but not quite stream-of-consciousness–and tells a tale of scarpering out of Belfast, ahead of prosecution for cheating the dole. The last thing he wants to do is work for New York’s Irish mob in the person of Darkey White, but finds himself unqualified to do little else. What follows are the adventures of a redeemable bad boy: living in abandoned buildings, loyal to a fault to his brothers in arms, and loving a woman not wisely but too well.
On the other side of the law is Bartholomew Gill’s Garda Chief Inspector, Peter McGarr, in his The Death of an Irish Lass. The brutal death of a reporter visiting from New York sparks a wide-ranging investigation that takes him from the breadth of Ireland to the city of New York itself, trying to trace the previous movements of the dead girl and her associates, many of whom are involved in IRA activities. McGarr and his fellow Garda Siochana (Irish Police force) officers have unique insight to the politics of the Provo (Provisional Irish Republican Army), sympathizing in spirit but unwilling to aid and abet IRA violence. Gill’s characters are complex and his plotting keeps the reader guessing as to identities, allegiances, and consequences from start to finish.
The characters from Walking On Water are well drawn and anything but easy to label. Gemma O’Connor’s hero of the piece, John Spain–the only Garda official in the tiny town of Passage South and its environs–doesn’t need help in the persons of two irritating Dublin Garda detectives when a wealthy American resident is discovered dead and tied upright in her garden, but he certainly has them. Spain is new to Passage South, located on the west coast of Ireland, regaining his health. He is determined to change his life, moving on from heart surgery, a failed marriage, and simultaneously finding his way as a writer. To say he is beset with contrarieties in solving the murder of Evangeline Walter is to understate the case, but his divided loyalties are but one thread in the fabric of this melancholy tale.
Any of these novels will put you in the spirit of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, whether or not you are lucky enough to be Irish or not.
Erin Go Bragh!