There’s quite a buzz around Irish Crime Fiction at the moment with the suggestion that the Irish could replace the Scandanavians as the next big thing. One of the spearheads for this campaign could very well be Joe Murphy with this intriguing third novel. There’s an edginess to Murphy’s writing which is there right from the beginning. The book opens on the streets of Dublin not long before Christmas 1892 and the scene is set in parts of the city that makes Dickens’ London look rosy by comparison. A prostitute is violently murdered and there is a strong possibility that the Ripper has relocated from Whitechapel to Dublin. Sergeant George Frohmell of the Dublin Metropolitan Police has his own reasons to halt the killings of prostitutes but those in charge are more pre-occupied with political events, leaving Frohmell go go it very much alone.
These opening pages are superbly written with evocative alliterative phrases – “the sough and suck” of the nearby River Liffey; “the soup of smoke”; “the sallow sneer” of light from a gas lamp building up the picture of this cold, hostile environment in often, short, descriptive sentences. It proves quite a pull when Murphy drags us away and into the Dublin of just before Christmas 2015 where seventeen year old Nathan Jabob is mourning his Dad. Nathan’s story is one of grief and angst, of not belonging and the uncertainties of first love. An outsider also provides the voice of the third narrative strand, that of the killer whose tale is bookended by swirling, poetic passages of violence and madness. Nathan’s morbid preoccupations are piqued by a library book, (Hurrah! A seventeen year old is using a library and being helped by a librarian- good on you, Joe Murphy!) an examination of this sequence of murders in the Monto district over 120 years before.
Joe Murphy weaves a tale of patterns, of blood lines and of blood lust. It’s extremely readable laced with a smattering of dark humour which is effective and appropriate. In Frohmell and Nathan the author has created two likeable well-rounded characters. This is a good read and I will certainly be checking out Murphy’s two previous novels.