25 April 2013

Review: Black Irish by Stephan Talty

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:

Buy Black Irish at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Random House / Ballantine Books, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780345538062
Rating: B+

Source: Review - audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


rhapsodyinbooks 4/25/13, 7:00 AM  

I've never listened to a mystery on audio because when I read one, I keep flipping back to see if I can figure out what's going on, so I don't know how I'd do, but I love Irish accents!

Jenn's Bookshelves 4/25/13, 8:28 AM  

Oooh! Adding this to my "must-listen" list!

bermudaonion 4/25/13, 10:51 AM  

I used to read a ton of books like this but don't seem to work them into the rotation as much as I used to. This one sounds really good!

JoAnn 4/25/13, 10:56 AM  

Oh, this sounds wonderful! I spent some time in Buffalo during and after college (my best friend is from the area) and even marched with her in their St. Patrick's Day parade one year. Adding this to my wish list.

Belle Wong 4/25/13, 11:59 AM  

This sounds like another good audio for me. And another good mystery author to add to the collection.

Nise' 4/25/13, 12:46 PM  

This sounds like a must read for me as it is a debut book and a thriller/mystery.

Zibilee 4/25/13, 12:59 PM  

Oh, I do like his voice, and would love to read this one. It's not often that I like these type of books, but the fact that this one was a mixture of several different genres intrigues me. I must see if I can find this!

Anonymous,  4/25/13, 3:35 PM  

The way they target Abby sounds harsh and wrong, I'm guessing the mystery is all the more important to know for that. You really haven't given anything away, which is brilliant.

Peggy Ann 4/25/13, 7:59 PM  

Sounds really good, Beth. Intriguing name for a girl too!

caite 4/25/13, 8:24 PM  

I liked this one too...not Tanya French..but I liked it.

Julie P. 4/25/13, 9:05 PM  

Oh! I bet I'd enjoy this one!!!

(Diane) bookchickdi 4/26/13, 7:47 AM  

I've not heard of this book, but being Irish and growing up near Buffalo, I think I'd like this one.

Jackie McGuinness 4/26/13, 9:52 AM  

I read this a couple of weeks ago and loved it. I'm Irish born and as we live in Toronto go across to Buffalo quite a bit.

Barbara 4/26/13, 2:36 PM  

I'm not an audio book reader but I'll keep my eye out for the print version. Don't know much about Buffalo and I've been enjoying different settings and parts of the world recently through my reading choices. I'm curious how she takes care of her senile father while working as a cop.

Tina 4/27/13, 7:38 AM  

This has gone on my must read list. I love Tana French novels and this one sounds fantastic.

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