7 Crime Novels Written by Irish Women
Olivia Kiernan, author of ‘Too Close To Breathe,’ on Irish women writing ‘emerald noir’
Crime lovers take out your knives and carve yourself a slice of crime fiction from this stellar list of Irish women writers. Darkness is not a stranger to Irish fiction, even novels peppered with humour often favour the odd dark theme and the past couple of decades has seen a huge surge in crime fiction.
Ireland has seen many shifts in the social, political and economical landscape in the past twenty years. These changes have allowed for a greater dialogue around some of the country’s darker issues: domestic violence, social oppression of women, cases of sexual abuse from the church, political, gang and drug-related crime. It’s natural crime writers would want to explore these themes.
When writing Too Close To Breathe, I was acutely aware of this grand wave of “emerald noir,” particularly from female authors. Seeing these books, with their atmospheric covers and tantalizing blurbs, spread out along the shelves of my local bookstore, reassured me there was a home for what I was writing. So let me take you through some of those books and women authors who prefer to write in a darker shade of green.
Broken Harbor by Tana French
This novel was my first introduction to Tana French and I have pushed it into the hands of many readers since. French’s novels feature compelling plots, great writing and characters that could walk from the page and take that pint of Guinness right out of your hand. There’s just enough of an Irish tilt to the dialogue to not trip up the tongue but I love the little verbal gifts she gives her characters, words like “scarlet,” a shorthand in Ireland for embarrassment. Each of her novels focus on one detective or investigator as part of Dublin’s Murder Squad. The case presented usually challenges the detective both professionally and on a personal level. Her books ask not only who is responsible for this crime but who is this detective. In Broken Harbor, Patrick Spain and his two children have been murdered in one of the abandoned housing developments that litter Ireland. Detective Scorcher is plagued by the strange details of the case: why is the house full of holes in the wall? Why are there six baby monitors all facing the holes? For Detective Scorcher, the case becomes increasingly personal with long-suppressed dark family memories rising painfully to the surface.
One Bad Turn by Sinead Crowley
Three books under her belt and Crowley’s D.S. Claire Boyle series keeps thrilling. One Bad Turn sees D.S. Boyle take her young baby to the doctor’s surgery where they both become embroiled in a dangerous hostage situation. Crowley’s novels often focuses on personal conflict between characters. In this novel, the hostage taker is the childhood friend of the doctor. The Irish Times raved that One Bad Turn is sensationally good.
The Confession by Jo Spain
Set in the midst of Ireland’s recession, the novel is a whydunnit that opens with a confession from the killer on the first page. The killer brutally attacks a disgraced corrupt banker in his own home in front of the victim’s wife. An hour later, he turns himself in to the police but claims he has no idea who the victim is or why he did it. Spain’s books are gripping and filled with intriguing, original plots inspired by Ireland’s social history. Her best-selling debut novel, With Our Blessing, features Inspector Tom Reynolds investigating the murder of a nun linked to a notorious institute for “fallen women.”
Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
Remember what I was saying about the Irish and our penchant for darkness? Author Ruth Ware praised Unraveling Oliver as “pitch-black and superbly written.” I feel like my work here is done. The novel begins with a savage depiction of domestic violence, told from the chilling voice of the offender. Nugent’s story is all the more unsettling because the book’s main narrator, Oliver, is a successful children’s author with an outwardly stable family life. Told in flashbacks starting from Oliver’s unprovoked near-fatal assault of his wife to his unhappy childhood as an unwanted son, the novel slowly unravels to the nightmarish event that brought everything crashing down.
Let The Dead Speak by Jane Casey
Seven books down in the Maeve Kerrigan series and fans are clamouring for more of Casey’s special brand of crime fiction. Always one foot in reality, Casey’s novels enjoy plenty of interesting layers that all keep one another warm until the final conflagration. In her recent novel, eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns home to find her West London home covered in blood and her mother nowhere to be found. London detective Maeve Kerrigan suspects Emery’s ultra religious neighbors are responsible for the murder but there’s one problem: there’s no body. Crafted with sharp dialogue, some of which might raise a smile, and clever plotting, Let The Dead Speak, will take you on a race through the pages.
The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard
With her second novel, The Liar’s Girl, hitting shelves as I type, the time has never been more ripe to begin your obsession with Howard’s novels. The Liar’s Girl takes us back to the canals of Dublin in a story packed with psychological trickery and playing on the theme of the bad boy, and a very bad boy indeed. What do you do when you realize your boyfriend is a killer?
Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd
Jedd Kidd’s mysteries refuse to conform to genre in the most delicious of ways. She sculpts her imaginative storylines with a deft hand managing to bring otherworldly elements into the intriguing mystery at the center of her plot. Her latest, Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, is set in a Maurier-esque mansion in London and her sleuth takes the form of Irish careworker, Maud Drennan tasked with looking after a hoarder, Cathal Flood. The detective story begins when Maud is sorting through the junk in Flood’s eerily decrepit mansion and stumbles across family photographs with the faces of a little girl and a woman burnt out. Kidd takes her readers for an unsettling journey into the abyss of a Gothic family saga inspired by religious mysticism and Celtic folklore.
Olivia Kiernan is an Irish writer, blogger, and novelist. She has an MA in Creative Writing, awarded by the University of Sussex and was born and raised in County Meath, Ireland. Her debut novel, Too Close to Breathe, is a crime thriller set in Dublin and published in April 2018.