Newly promoted detective Jo Birmingham operates on the mean streets of Dublin. Ambitious and anxious to prove a point to her male colleagues - one of whom is her ex-husband, Dan, who is also her boss - Birmingham muscles in on the investigation into a series of killings that appear to have been committed by someone who has a grudge against Dublin’s gangland. The killings are ritualised, and appear to have a religious motive.
Parallel to the thriller aspects of the novel runs Jo Birmingham’s personal life. Separated from her husband, Jo is struggling to find enough hours in the day to maintain her home. She lives with her teenage son, Rory, and her one-year-old, Harry, both of whom are a huge drain on her resources, particularly time. Jo also suspects that Dan is having an affair with his secretary. This, naturally, adds to the friction in their professional relationship, and leads to a number of delicious confrontations.
Where the personal and political meet in a more explicit fashion, however, is the fact that Birmingham is conducting a one-woman campaign on behalf of victim’s rights, whom she believes are ill-served by the court system. Niamh O’Connor personalises this even further with a postscript to the novel: “Like Jo Birmingham, I too feel that the scales of justice are too heavily weighted in favour of the accused and need to be rebalanced back towards the victims of crime. This novel is our opening salvo.”
The novel is a pacy page-turner, and delivers a satisfying crime thriller. What’s particularly satisfying is the way in which O’Connor manages to imbue the story with gritty detail without ever holding up the story in order to divest herself of too much technical information. As a crime correspondent with the Sunday World, O’Connor spends much of her time in the company of Gardai, criminals and victims, and as a result the novel has a hard ring of authenticity.
Even though the basic plot - cop chases serial killer - is one that is becoming rather hackneyed these days, the fact that the story is so rooted in a contemporary Dublin reality gives it a cutting edge. Birmingham is a likeable character, despite her spiky, abrasive nature. This is off-set by her private self, which is marginally less spiky and abrasive, but what gives her an added dimension is her campaign on behalf of victims’ rights. - Declan Burke
“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.