Thirty days, Thirty Irish Crime Novels From My Shelves

When bookish American friends ask me if I can recommend any good Irish crime novels -- often after they've read Tana French for the first time -- I have to warn them that they may get a bit more, recommendation-wise, than they bargained for. Showing off the part of my bookshelf where I have lovingly collected and precariously piled crime fiction set in Ireland or written by Irish authors makes me feel a bit like this lady.

Here's what part of my collection looks like.

I still find it really marvelous that there are so many great Irish mysteries to read. When I was studying Irish Literature in graduate school in the mid-90s (and secretly dreaming of writing crime fiction), I told a professor that I wanted to focus on mystery novels by Irish writers. I was told that there really weren't enough of them to make my plan viable. I could pull elements of crime fiction out of Joyce or Flann O'Brien, of course, but in terms of actual, Irish crime fiction, well, the examples were thin on the ground. Of course, that wasn't exactly true then. (More about that later.) It's really, really not true now. Twenty five years later there's been a rampant flowering of the crime fiction branch on the tree of Irish Literature. Back then, I ended up writing my masters thesis on the Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen (and looking for the mystery in her work, but more about that later too).

I've been making enough recommendations lately that I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the Irish crime novels on my shelves, by pulling down one writer a day for the month of March.

First up for March 1: Declan Hughes's noiry Dublin novels starring private detective Ed Loy.

The series gets off to a vivid start with this fantastic first line of 2006's The Wrong Kind of Blood: "The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth, and asked me to find her husband."

When I first read The Wrong Kind of Blood, I felt like I was reading something completely new, a crime novel about Dublin that attended lovingly and critically to the details of a city I knew well, a city that was changing so fast it had become a mystery to one of its native sons, who was returning home after twenty years in L.A. Watching him figure out how it had changed and how it hadn't right at the moment that I had started visiting Ireland again regularly after some time away was a rare joy.

Loy's cases start out classic L.A. private eye: missing husbands, blackmail, lost daughters, disappeared actresses, but transported to mid-aughts Dublin, where money was busy transforming city neighborhoods and their residents in unexpected ways. Hughes has a lot to say about Celtic Tiger and pre- and post-financial crisis Ireland, but mostly he has a lot to say about people. Loy's personal evolution over the course of the series is convincing and well-tended-to and the characters who surround him are Technicolor, 3-D, fully realized; they feel like actual people you've met and are now having described back to you by someone who knows them even better than you do. And he does it all in beautiful, gathering prose, as in this description of a legendary film director in City of Lost Girls: "Jack Donovan, the Jack Donovan, in a darkened Dublin bar, great handsome bull's head tipped back, plume of still-dark hair coiled over broad black-shirted back, full pint of stout held aloft to the east, shot of whiskey to the west, and the feet all pounding in a ring around him as he sinks the dark pint to rising hoots and cries . . ."

More information about Declan Hughes's Ed Loy novels and his other work here.

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Copyright 2020 by Sarah Stewart Taylor