Friday, May 20, 2011

Review of A Stone of the Heart by John Brady (Penguin, 1988)

Jarlath Walsh is a naive and idealistic student at Trinity College Dublin who dreams of becoming a journalist. His ambition is cut short when his head is bashed in with a cobble whilst walking across the college grounds. Inspector Kilmartin decides it is just the case to bring Sergeant Matt Minogue back into the fold of the murder squad. Minogue has been convalescing after surviving the bomb blast that killed the British Ambassador over a year previously. Even before the incident that nearly ended his life Minogue seemed to exist somewhat apart from his colleagues; thoughtful, perceptive, unflappable, thorough. As he starts his investigation it’s immediately clear that something doesn’t sit right. The evidence suggests that Walsh’s death might be drug related, but Minogue’s instinct says otherwise. As he picks away at the case, the Troubles from the North visit the city, and policemen start to lose their lives. Then someone tries to kill Minogue.

A Stone of the Heart is the first book in the Matt Minogue series. It’s a credit to Brady that it feels mid-series. Minogue is a well developed character that has depth and resonance. Brady provides sufficient back story and family context without dwelling on it and slowing the story. The social interaction between characters is keenly observed and the dialogue is spot on, capturing the colloquialisms and banter of Irish brogue. Brady does an excellent job of capturing the political atmosphere in the South and the tensions between a somewhat political ambivalence and benign republicanism and an active support for the IRA. Well written with a nice pace, the story is carefully constructed, although the end tailed off a little. Whilst I didn’t have a problem with the ambiguous and unresolved nature of a couple of elements of the case, I was left with some questions concerning motivations and back story of three of the principle characters, which are dealt with in a cursory way. That said, A Stone of the Heart is very fine police procedural and I’m looking forward to catching up with Matt Minogue again.

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