Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review of Snapshots by Michael O’Higgins (New Island, 2015)

Dublin, 1981, at the height of the hunger strikes.  Christy Clarke is a ruthless criminal specialising in armed robberies.  Wayne Clarke, his son, is a gifted musician and footballer, who wishes his parents would stop their constant fighting.  Father Brendan is the local curate, actively involved in the abortion referendum campaign and battling his conscious with regards to his own sexuality.  Detective Sergeant Dick Roche is obsessed with tackling serious crime in Dublin and has his sights set on nabbing Christy.  A brutal attack on a prison officer puts these four on a collision course where each has something significant to lose: their freedom, their innocence, their reputation, their career.  An uncompromising battle of wits ensues, with no player wishing to cede ground.

Snapshots is the debut novel of criminal lawyer, Michael O’Higgins.  The real strength of the novel is its characterisation and character development as the four principal actors seek to outwit each other to come out top in their various interlinked battles.  O’Higgins carefully frames and sets out the worldviews of a ruthless criminal, his twelve year old son, the local curate, and a committed copper, and slowly entangles their interactions, charting how each is transformed by their encounters and the passage of time.  While the plot and telling is somewhat slow and ponderous to begin with, the tale soon picks up pace and intrigue and really hits its stride when O’Higgins gets onto his familiar territory of the courts.  Rather than adopting the register of a thriller, the narrative benefits from a grounding in realism and authenticity, with working class Dublin in 1981-82, the Troubles and hunger strikes in the North, domestic violence, clerical sexual abuse and the abortion referendum providing wider contextualisation.  While there is no great sense of mystery, O’Higgins does keep the reader wondering as to who will come out on top and the denouement is wonderfully classic noir.  Overall, a thoughtful, literary, criminal tale.

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