Ireland is making a real name for itself as the home of world-class thriller and crime writers. From Tana French to John Connolly, Jane Casey to Benjamin Black, there is no shortage of thrilling books coming out of Ireland, winning awards and wooing readers.
Here are three thrillers I’ve read recently written by women from Ireland.
The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard
Taking inspiration from Michelle McNamara’s I’ll be Gone in the Dark, Ryan Howard’s latest thriller imagines what might happen if an aging killer was to read about his crimes in a book written by one of his surviving victims. It’s an intriguing premise and well executed using the book-within-a-book device with skill and wit.
Eve Black was the only survivor of a vicious attack on her family, which killed her mother, father and younger sister. The family were the fifth victims of The Nothing Man, a serial killer who left no tracks and was never apprehended. Twenty years later, long after his crimes have ceased, Eve has written a book entitled The Nothing Man, which is part memoir and part investigation into the identity of the man who stole her family and her life.
Jim Doyle is a security guard in a supermarket, middle-aged and unremarkable, living a quiet if unhappy life with his wife and daughter. That all changes when he sees Eva’s book, because Jim is The Nothing Man and he becomes determined to get rid of Eva once and for all before his identity is exposed.
Ryan’s book is beautifully structured, we read Eve book along with Jim and as we find out more about his crimes and he becomes more obsessed protecting himself, the tension is cranked up. Ryan Howard has perfectly captured the tone of true crime non-fiction for Eve’s book, without forsaking any of the pacing and thrills of a traditional crime novel. The Nothing Man is a really refreshing take on the thriller genre, asking to imagine what happens to killers after they have stopped killing and exploring how, as a society, we invest these killers with a strange kind of charisma that rarely exists in real life.
Catherine Ryan Howard has written a great piece on demystifying serial killers which you can read here.
Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent
Liz Nugent’s dark, twisted novels are always characterised by two things. A shocking opening line and a gallery of thoroughly unlikeable characters. Our Little Cruelties is no different. ‘’All three of the Drumm brothers were at the funeral, although one of us was in a coffin.” So begins this tale of family dysfunction and cruelty as we hear from each of the Drumm brothers in turn, looking back over their childhood together under the care of an absent father, a manipulative mother and a vicious fraternal jealously.
Will, the eldest Drumm, is an arrogant and successful film producer, married to the downtrodden Susan and father to conflicted daughter Daisy. Luke, the youngest brother has been a successful pop star, but is now a washed-up addict. He is managed by middle brother Brian, who has subsumed his own ambitions to cater to the needs of Luke and Daisy respectively. As each brother narrates his section, Nugent skillfully plays with the readers’ allegiances, revealing new details on how each brother has tried to ruin the other brother’s lives and subverting expectation. In doing so, they have also affected the lives of the women around them and their lives play out like some demented Greek tragedy.
The dark enjoyment of Our Little Cruelties comes from trying to work out which brother has died and under what circumstances and Nugent keeps you guessing until the satisfactory end, throwing in an even darker twist to stress that misery continues to be passed on and it affect those most undeserving of it.
The Push by Claire McGowan
Claire McGowan takes a break from her excellent Paula Maguire series to explore the fraught experience of pregnancy and motherhood in this tense and fluid standalone thriller.
Six mothers have met at a pre-natal class in London. They are a mixed bunch – from young single mothers to parents waiting to adopt – all with differing needs and worries. Following the births, one of the group hosts a party in her luxury home to celebrate but the party turns to tragedy when someone falls from a balcony and dies. DS Alison Hegarty, herself struggling with fertility, isn’t so sure the fall is an accident and as she investigates the secrets among the group start to come to the fore and it becomes clear that the fall may in fact have been murder.
As with Liz Nugent’s Our Little Cruelties, The Push benefits from keeping the identity of the victim concealed for much of the book. The more that is revealed about the characters, the wider the net becomes both for potential victim and potential murderer. It’s a clever device, adding meaning and nuance to every twist and turn in the narrative and subverting the readers expectations as the novel progresses.
McGowan is also skilled at exploring the anxieties and concerns that come with pregnancy and impending motherhood and how they can manifest into something a lot more dangerous. The Push is an excellent thriller, featuring strong characters and a well-integrated theme.
I received a copy of The Push from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
If you are interested in more Irish crime/ thriller writers, check out Brian McGilloway’s top ten Modern Irish Crime Novels in The Guardian which contains some fantastic books.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!