If it’s linguistic pyrotechnics you’re after, you’d be advised to look elsewhere: KT McCaffrey writes in a quiet, measured and very effective fashion that reflects the way his main protagonist, journalist Emma Boylan, goes about her business. Set in Dublin, Bishop’s Pawn is a sequel-of-sorts to McCaffrey’s first novel, Revenge (1999). It opens with Emma discovering that the newspaper she works for is about to publish her obituary. Other newspapers follow suit, and – as corpses begin to pile up – it soon becomes apparent that the practical joke has sinister overtones. In Revenge, Emma was one of a number of eye-witnesses to the suicide of a woman whose life had been destroyed by an elaborate cover-up partly engineered by the Catholic Church. Now the woman’s daughter has come of age, and seems hell-bent on nothing less than divinely inspired retribution. The thrill of KT McCaffrey’s writing is the juxtaposition between that finely modulated downbeat style and the apocalyptic scenario it describes. Emma is an Everywoman who is not particularly tough or hardboiled, and whose domestic concerns run parallel to the CSI-style bodycount. The tension that builds relentlessly from the early stages is derived from Emma’s very ordinariness, which includes a penchant for logical thinking appropriate to an investigative journalist, and the outrageous machinations of the psychopathic murderess she finds herself pitted against. Certainly McCaffrey can do pithy humour (“There’s a breeze out there that’d freeze a pawnbroker’s balls.”), and his multiple-character narrative that drives with tragic inevitability towards an explosive finale has all the components of a blockbuster movie script. But once the dust has settled, the abiding and poignant memory is of McCaffrey’s skill in evoking the nuances of Emma’s plight as she finds herself at the heart of a maelstrom that threatens to destroy everything she once believed in. The ability to mine the extraordinary from the ordinary, as the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh once put it, is not one that should be underestimated. Bishop’s Pawn is a superb addition to the canon of Irish crime fiction.- Declan Burke
This review was reproduced by the kind permission of Euro Crime
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.