I discovered Brian O’Hare and his Inspector Sheehan series thanks to the second book, 11:05 Murders, and I have been a fan ever since, reviewing the next two books in the series as well, but had not managed to catch up with the first one. As I mentioned in my last review, the author is happy to send a copy of the first book in the series to any readers interested, and he was kind enough to send me one as well. And I am very pleased about it.
I’m not surprised by the accolades and the praise bestowed on this novel. Although I’ve come to it after reading the rest of the series, and therefore I was already familiar with the characters and the setting, it has all the elements that will endear it to fans of police procedural novels and thrillers, and a few extra ones for good measure.
The story is narrated in the third person, like the rest of the series, mostly from Inspector Sheehan’s point of view, although there are parts of the novel where we share in the point of view of other characters, including members of the team and others who seem, at first, not to play a direct part in the plot, although we soon learn this is not the case. As I have mentioned when reviewing other novels in the series, the changes in point of view are not confusing or sudden, and the narration style works well because it offers readers plenty of clues, hints, and also a few red herrings that contribute to keeping the brain engaged and readers on their toes.
One of the aspects of the series I’ve always particularly enjoyed is the interaction between the members of the team, and also the teamwork involved in the investigation. Sheehan is, without a doubt, the star of the team, and his intuition/flashes of inspiration always help solve the mystery, although they are, at times, a source of frustration and puzzlement, as is the case here. Apart from a great detective, Sheehan is an inspiring leader of his men, a caring human being with his weaknesses and foibles; he is far from the ladies’ man so favoured by the detective genre, and although he does not shy away from action, he is a thinking man and spends a fair amount of time reflecting, not only upon the cases, but also about social, political, and religious matters. (He is a lapsed Roman Catholic, and the nature of the killings makes him question his own beliefs). The rest of the members of the team are also individuals in their own right, and we get to learn about their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, and some details about their personal lives which are relevant to the story, because, in this case, everybody is a suspect. There are also other characters we meet, some who are regular collaborators of the team, like the medical examiner (one of my favourite characters, who always help bring a touch of lightness and fun to the proceedings), but also some introduced due to their relationship to the case, and all of them add interest to the story and play important roles later on.
The story is set in Northern Ireland, in Belfast, and the book’s setting is very important, not only because of the real locations and because how it affects the functioning of the team (Northern Ireland is part is the UK, and therefore their police force is organised in the same way as that in England), but also because the political and the religious background and tensions play a fundamental part in the plot and in the series as a whole. There are beautiful descriptions of neighbourhoods, buildings, and places, and I felt that the novel manages to give readers a good insight into the nature of both, the place and the people of Northern Ireland. At a historical moment such as this, with the Brexit discussions as one of the main items in the news, and the issue of the Irish Border as one of the stumbling stones, the novel’s background makes it even more compelling.
I’ve mentioned religion, and despite some twists and turns that point towards other possible motives, the murderer seems to be preoccupied with religion and with making a statement about the current state of affairs in the Roman Catholic Church. As I have said, thanks to the omniscient point of view, we are offered information the investigating team does not have, and readers will probably feel they are ahead and have a pretty good idea of what is going on, but the balance between what is revealed and what is not is finely tuned, and it is easy to miss clues or get stuck on one of the many possible suspects and trapped by the red herrings. I cannot discuss the ins and outs of the case or of the ending (yes, I had my suspicions, but mostly because I was at an advantage having read other books in the series, and even with that I was not all that confident and missed a few of the clues), but it fully engaged me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d recommend anybody reading it to pay close attention to it and not to dismiss any information provided. Everything has a reason. I’d also warn readers that although the descriptions of the crimes are not graphic in the extreme, the deaths are violent and there are a number of upsetting elements in the plot, and these are realistically depicted. Readers who prefer their crime novels light should stay away from this book.
The novel flows well and the language is easy to follow, without over-the-top reliance on jargon, and terminology that might not be familiar to the reader is explained within the context of the novel. The novel moves at a good pace, but it does include moments of reflection and commentaries about the case, its ramifications, and also about the general state of affairs that allow readers to think about the events and to catch a breath. Despite the serious subject, there are also moments of fun and banter, and even what seems to be a budding romance. There are some action scenes, but there is also plenty of work following clues and examining the evidence, and that helps readers feel like true investigators and ersatz members of the team, as they eavesdrop in the discussions and come up with their own theories.
This is an excellent police procedural novel, the first in a great series, with engaging characters, in a setting that is as important as the plot, and one that shows a team of investigators readers can root for (rather than corrupt individuals or egotistical detectives only interested in their own glory). There is a lot of talk about religion, partly due to the plot, and partly to the main character’s own spiritual crisis, and this might put off some readers, although, personally, I enjoyed that aspect of the story, a likely reflection of the author’s personal journey.