Irish Times’ racing correspondent Brian O’Connor got a nice bonus a couple of weeks back, when the dear Old Lady published an extract from his very fine debut novel, BLOODLINE. In the extract, our hero Liam Dee has just arrived at the yard where he works as a jockey, and where the body of a Ukrainian stable-boy has been discovered with the back of his head smashed in. Now read on …
Murder on the Curragh
THE ONLY SOUNDS came from crows lazily gliding over the yard to examine the flashing blue lights that still had enough power in the morning gloom to make you blink. But there wasn’t a murmur where there should have been the snorting clatter of keyed-up horses emerging from their night’s sleep and the shouts of frozen lads trying to keep them under control.
After the initial frenzied arrival of police cars and an ambulance, there was an eerily mundane hour when little seemed to happen. The crime scene was sealed off and so was the stable yard. But then things seemed to stand still in the wait for specialists to show up. Rocky, Bailey and myself told a couple of detectives what we’d seen. Rocky said he’d been in the tack room when he thought he heard someone running outside. He figured his ears were playing tricks on him at first but went out to have a look and saw the box door in the alley open. That was when he saw the body, turned on the lights and tried to call the guards. But he’d heard an engine gunning outside the yard as well – like a motorcycle, he said.
I told them how I’d encountered someone on a motorbike who’d tried to run me over.
“What did this person look like, sir?” the detective asked.
“I’d guess he was about my height, but it’s only a guess. He was wearing a helmet so I couldn’t see his face. Apart from that, nothing really – jeans, a leather jacket, boots. It was all so quick.”
“What make of bike was it?”
“It was one of those trackers, like they use for racing on mud.”
He asked me what I was doing around the place so early.
I explained that I had just driven from Dublin. He asked if anyone could verify what time I had left Dublin. I told him there wasn’t but I’d stopped for petrol soon after leaving Sandyford and the people in the station knew me.
“And what were you doing here, sir?”
“I was coming down to ride work. I’m Mrs McFarlane’s jockey. My car skidded and hit the railway bridge so I ran the rest of the way here.”
“So you work here every day?”
“No. I usually just ride out one morning a week, or come for schooling.”
“Getting horses to practise their jumping.”
The detective told me to stay around and I assured him I wasn’t going anywhere. It all felt completely unreal. Such things didn’t happen in the middle of the Curragh. The bald, flat plain contained more horses than people, and most of the villains had four legs. Anything to do with horses could be dangerous and sometimes people were killed – but from a flailing leg or a bad fall: this was terribly different.
For the rest, clickety-click here …
“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.