Book review: Black Irish by Stephan Talty

There are two shining stars of Stephan Talty’s outstanding debut crime thriller… a captivating and original woman police detective, and the feuding, clannish ‘27th County of Ireland,’ a shadowy enclave of South Buffalo.
Black Irish by Stephan TaltyBlack Irish by Stephan Talty
Black Irish by Stephan Talty

Irish Americans have long been noted for their fierce sense of community, their innate warmth and their hostility to outsiders, and Talty, whose parents emigrated to Buffalo in New York State from County Clare, places this complex mindset at the heart of his fast-paced, atmospheric tale of dark demons and sadistic murder.

Talty takes us to an area known as ‘The County,’ a patch of Ireland in the wilds of America where ‘ancestry is everything’ and the self-sufficient residents are so insular that families have been known to turn against families because they came from ‘the wrong part of Ireland.’

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And it’s a compelling, superbly crafted backcloth for a fast-paced mystery packed with intriguing twists and turns, grisly serial killings, a brilliantly suspenseful game of cat and mouse… and all written in Talty’s fine line in crisp, clear, descriptive prose.

Leading the hunt to find an obsessive killer is Detective Absalom (Abbie) Kearney, a young, half-Irish woman born outside the neighbourhood but who was adopted and raised by John Kearney, The County’s legendary Irish cop.

Abbie possesses the midnight-black hair they call ‘Black Irish’ in South Buffalo but she is still regarded as an outsider and her Harvard degree and her recent ill-fated job as a Miami detective have not endeared her to the locals.

Nevertheless she is assigned to the brutal murder of Jimmy Ryan whose disfigured and tortured body is found in a closed-down church. Ryan is barely recognisable and the only clues the police have are the cruel removal of the victim’s eyelids and the killer’s sinister calling card, a plastic toy monkey with its hands clasped in a ‘speak no evil’ pose.

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But this is a city cocooned in secrets, suspicion and blood feuds and the residents will do anything to protect their own. For Abbie, this case is her one chance to prove to the Irish community that even the most heinous of murderers can be stopped.

But as the killer strikes again and starts sending her cryptic messages, Abbie finds herself in a race to stop The County’s residents exacting their own form of justice.

And when she finds a lead at the Gaelic Club, where war stories, gossip and confidences flow as freely as the drink, the hunt takes a shocking twist into her own family’s past…

Black Irish is a superb page-turner and the steely Abbie’s chilling battle of wits with the maniacal killer is psychological crime drama at its best.

This charismatic leading lady’s next case will be much anticipated.

(Headline, paperback, £6.99)

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