Absalom Kearney was adopted by a Buffalo, New York, police detective when she was just six years old. Growing up in the Irish Catholic section of the city, known as "the county," wasn't easy for the Gypsy-looking Abby, who was always treated as an outsider. Back in the city after a Harvard education and a stint in a Florida police department, Abby is not just taking care of her senile father but is following in his footsteps as a local detective.
When a killer begins targeting members of a semi-secret Irish society, Abby is put in charge. Her usual rational cool begins to crumble when the murders hit close to home and evidence begins to point directly at her. The deeper she looks, the more she is pulled into the killer's deranged world.
Stephan Talty's Black Irish is a psychological thriller-cum-murder mystery built over a police procedural core.The setting, the plotting, and the characters work together to create a strong and chilling debut novel. In fact, the three elements are so closely intertwined, it's almost impossible to discuss them them separately.
The bleakness of Buffalo, a city in decline, is underscored by the unrelenting winter cold and the seemingly unemotional deliberateness of the murderer. Although other American cities are known for their Irish American heritage (Boston, for example), this is Buffalo's story, and the cops, victims, and citizens are decidedly from the Lakes, not the coast. Furthermore, Talty emphasizes the unique Buffalo-Ireland connection, creating characters that have been deeply colored by that history.
You'll note that I said very little about the actual crimes and the ending of the book. As with most mysteries, the less you know beforehand, the better. I'll simply say that the clues are there. If you are cleverer than I am, you might figure it all out, but it won't matter because the characters and the story will hold your attention just as much as the specific crimes.
If you like complex psychological tangles with easy-to-visualize characters, you'll like Stephan Talty's Black Irish. I've read reviews that compared him to Jo Nesbo and Tanya French, but I think Denis Lehane comes to mind for me.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Random House Audio; 10 hr, 4 min), read by David H. Lawrence XVII. Although the protagonist is a woman, Lawrence seemed to be the right reader for Black Irish. His slightly gravely voice and expressive reading fit the mood of the novel and of the city. He added to my enjoyment of the story by creating tension and boosting the feelings of terror, confusion, or relief, as needed. Although I'm no voice expert, I felt his careful use of an Irish accent was believable, strengthening the listener's connection to the story. Thanks to Random House Audio, I'm able to share a sample of the audiobook with you:
Random House / Ballantine Books, 2013
Source: Review - audio (see review policy)
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