The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

The Little Red Chairs - Edna O_Brien
An astonishing book: the seduction by an evil person, the desperate lives of the displaced and dispossessed. The title refers to a 2012 commemoration of the siege of Sarajevo: 11,514 red chairs were placed in rows, one for each person killed in the siege that lasted for almost 4 years. What is remarkable about this book is that it is an Irish woman, Fidelma, who is the central core to the story which takes place in Ireland and England. Thanks Mike, for this recommendation.

The Trespasser – Tana French

The Trespasser - Tana FrenchAnother superb mystery thriller in the Dublin Murder Squad. The procedural detail in staging an interview, for example, is fascinating. But the best feature of this novel is the description of the head-space of Detective Antoinette Conway, the only female in the Murder Squad, so she is faced with Prime Suspect-like intrigue from the good-old-boys. French is a great crime writer; all her books are highly recommended.

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue

Set in Ireland in the 1860s (not long after the famine), this book provides impeccable detail into an investigation into a fantastical claim that an 11 year-old girl hasn’t eaten for four months: a miracle or a scam?  The investigation requires close observation (24/7) and as Margaret Mead postulated long ago – observation changes behaviour. One of the observers is an English nurse, so there are Irish-English issues as well. There are strong religious overtones but at its heart, this is a story about motherhood (so in that regard, somewhat similar to The Room). Donoghue is a fabulous story teller, nominated for the Giller.

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart

night stagesUrquhart writes exquisite books: The Underpainter, The Stone Carvers, A Map of Glass, etc. This great new book is mainly set in the SW of Ireland (County Kerry) in the 1940-50s. The characters are vivid: two Irish brothers, an Englishwoman who eventually moves to Ireland, and a Canadian mural painter. A beautiful part of the book describes a prolonged fog delay in Gander Airport which allows detailed contemplation of a mural. There is much discussion about art and love, and even a bike race in the beauty of Ireland. This is one of my best reads of 2015.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

This is a beautifully written quiet story about a 45-year-old recently widowed woman living in Ireland (County Wexford) who is conflicted by her need for privacy and the needs of her 4 children, and the attentions of her neighbours and friends. The time is the late 1960s, with approaching social and political changes. Nora is complex, often prickly and usually blunt – a fascinating character.

Broken Harbour by Tana French

This is a brilliant mystery; all of French’s books are a treat to read. There is very little place: the first half of the books is all procedural because a veteran homicide detective is training a novice partner, and then the psychological emphasis begins, the “why” of a horrific crime and unexplored secrets in the mind of the crime investigators.

Another French novel I read this month (The Secret Place) is set in a Dublin boarding school for girls: the 16-17 year old girls are secretive and manipulative with lies, deceit and gleeful bitchiness that confound the investigation into a murder. In other words, the mysteries of young adult female minds is explored wonderfully.