Christopher Owens has just read a post-Troubles thriller set in Cork.
Cork seems the unlikeliest place to set a post-Troubles political thriller.
At first glance, it doesn't have the battle scarred streets of Belfast and Dublin, nor does it have the Deliverence/Cannibal Holocaust style other worldiness of South Armagh and Dundalk. But dig deeper and you'll find the contested history of the area sits uneasily with the modern day Cork city centre.
Think of the allegations surrounding the death of Michael Collins. Think of the claim forwarded by revisionists like Peter Hart that there was a policy of ethnic cleansing of Protestants in the Cork area. The ambiguity makes for uneasy thinking.
And this unease is amply filtered into To Keep a Bird Singing.
Set in austerity ravaged times, Noelie Sullivan discovers his old punk records (once stolen from him) in a charity shop. After taking them home, he finds a statement (hidden in a copy of Live at the Witch Trials by The Fall) that states, quite categorically, that a local man by the name of Jim Dalton was murdered twenty years previously by a senior Garda.
Thus begins a tale of institutional abuse, disappearances and corruption that enthralls the reader until the final page. Starkly written and filled with human, sympathetic characters, To Keep a Bird Singing takes a look at modern Ireland and doesn't like how it has swept horrendous crimes under the carpet.
One of the ways in which author Kevin Doyle keeps the reader coming back is having a flawed lead. Noelie is a likeable character. He is someone who (by his own admission) is always on the verge of achieving, but pulls out at the last minute. Fine when in your twenties, less so when you're nearing fifty. His heart is in the right place and, for all his world weariness, there is a bullheaded naivety to his initial actions. Almost as if he's been waiting all these years to act in such a manner, and it happens to be the worst thing to do.
In the overcluttered world of crime fiction, Doyle proves himself able to produce a gripping, memorable and thought provoking tale.
Looking forward to reading the sequel, A River of Bodies.
Kevin Doyle, 2018, To Keep a Bird Singing. The Blackstaff Press ISBN-13: 978-1780731711
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.