At the start of the pandemic, I—like many others—found myself wanting to escape the seemingly fictitious surroundings that we had found ourselves in. Books were a significant source of relief from the ensuing chaos and I began delving into genres that I had never read before, one of which was crime fiction. I began with the classic and renowned detectives, and after a few weeks in the company of the eccentric and witty Miss Marple, my interest in gripping detective stories and enthralling thrillers had grown. On my quest to find other titles that were Christie-esque, I was surprised to discover that the majority of bookstores have a specific section dedicated to Irish crime, yet I was even more pleasantly surprised to learn that a large portion of the shelved authors were women.
In recent years there has been an evergrowing influx of Irish female authors making their mark in the crime and thriller genres. The versatility of our country’s writers is evident, as the selection spans from engrossing whodunnits to complex psychological thrillers. But in addition to the characteristical elements of the genre, many of the tales are set in Ireland which lends a sense of familiarity to the stories. Furthermore, a strong feminist echo lies in many of the works as concepts intertwined throughout the plots include misogyny, work imbalance on the basis of gender, and female protagonists at the forefront of solving cases in a male-dominated work environment. There are undoubtedly still many authors and titles I have yet to encounter, but it’s safe to say that I have gained enriching reading experiences from these very promising literary talents.
“Comprising six books, each instalment of the DI Tom Reynolds series deals with a certain societal controversy.”
It was circa the second lockdown when I came across the name Jo Spain, and I spent the subsequent weeks struggling to look up as I devoured her Detective Inspector (DI) Tom Reynolds series. This Dublin-based author is an incredible storyteller. With short and fast-paced chapters, it is a challenge to put her books down, and she crafts intricate plots which keep the reader guessing until the very last page. This particular series also holds a certain satirical element. Comprising six books, each instalment of the DI Tom Reynolds series deals with a certain societal controversy. Global issues are thematised, such as sex trafficking, violence against women and environmental conflict, however specific issues pertaining to Irish society are also weaved into the plot. The series’ first instalment, With Our Blessing, alludes to the horrific history of the Magdalene Laundries, and remains my favourite crime novel to date. In addition to this series, Spain has a selection of standalones that showcase her ability to create psychological thrillers, as well as classic murder mysteries.
Patricia Gibney is another firm favourite of mine. Her DI Lottie Parker series, set in the fictional Irish town of Ragmullin, is not for the faint of heart. The lengthy series is still in progress, with the 11th instalment due to be published in June 2022. The most striking element of this series is the unfiltered yet sophisticated manner in which Gibney illustrates her perpetrators. She does not shy away from creating truly haunting characters, and each book is as captivating as the next. A sub-plot of the series is DI Parker’s traumatic past and turbulent personal life, which becomes an additional mystery in itself. The protagonist is a daughter, a mother, and a widow—and her constant exposition to heinous crimes in her profession makes for a brilliant read.
“Set in London, the series’ feminist undertones immediately come to light as we encounter a protagonist struggling to gain authority or recognition amongst her demeaning male colleagues.”
The feisty Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan is a wonderful creation by the author Jane Casey. Set in London, the series’ feminist undertones immediately come to light as we encounter a protagonist struggling to gain authority or recognition amongst her demeaning male colleagues. DC Kerrigan is an outlier in the force and must go the extra mile to prove her worth. The series is compiled of a multitude of engrossing cases and the relationships between the various characters, coupled with the exhilarating city setting, results in a plentiful and rich collection of which the most recent instalment was published in 2020.
Martina Murphy is an exciting new voice in Irish crime fiction, whose debut novel, The Night Caller, was published last summer. I stumbled upon the book while browsing and it was most certainly one of my favourite reads of 2021. The story takes place on Achill Island—instantly formulating an idyllic and rural setting—while the numerous characters, and their heavily concealed secrets, perfectly capture the backdrop of the small Irish community. The tale also combines two mysteries, 20 years apart, and the complex background of Detective Sergeant Lucy Golden is slowly unmasked as she works to solve the case, culminating in an invigorating story.
While I tend to veer more frequently towards the traditional whodunnits, there is something magnetic about Liz Nugent’s thrillers. To pinpoint a favourite is almost impossible, but her novel, Skin Deep, has a particular enticement. It details the story of Cordelia Russell, raised in the west of Ireland, and her vigorous attempts to run from a troubled past, resulting in immoral, violent and poisonous behaviour. Nugent’s ability to illustrate the pathological minds of her characters is the epitome of great writing and she creates venomous characters that you cannot help but loathe, yet keep turning the pages.
A stellar list, but it is merely a microcosm of the influx of talented Irish female writers that are currently dominating crime fiction. It would be prudent to also mention the very accomplished Louise Phillips, who is a favourite in the Irish crime fiction scene, not to mention Andrea Carter’s Inishowen Mysteries, another immensely stimulating collection. New faces and titles are constantly appearing; newcomer Fiona Sherlock’s debut, Twelve Motives for Murder, is set to become my next source of procrastination.E
“The exploration of dark themes is evident in even the earliest works of general Irish fiction, but in recent years, dialogue has consistently been evolving with regards to some of the darker and previously concealed issues such as domestic violence, institutional abuse, and the oppression of women.”
Ireland’s literary flair is not a new concept. It suffices to say that we are home to some of the most adept writers, however not all gain the credit and admiration that they deserve. The exploration of dark themes is evident in even the earliest works of general Irish fiction—but in recent years, dialogue has consistently been evolving with regards to some of the darker and previously concealed issues such as domestic violence, institutional abuse, and oppression of women. All of the authors discussed have successfully woven such issues into their novels, thereby composing both enticing works of crime fiction and startling accounts of real issues facing society today. It is a victory for women’s literature to see such a refreshing increase of female voices in what is a traditionally dark genre, and one can only hope that it is a positive trend.