Monday, September 12, 2016

Review of The Silent Dead by Claire McGowan (Headline, 2015)

Five years after a bomb ripped apart a small community killing sixteen people the suspected perpetrators have been abducted.  Having been freed due to issues with the investigation few locals have sympathy for the Mayday Five, members of a republican splinter group, yet the police must treat their disappearance like any other.  Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is part of the investigative team.  She’s still haunted by the disappearance of her mother seventeen years previously, taken from her home by men presumed to be members of the IRA.  When the first body is found the investigation steps up a gear, but tensions inside the police team are strained, locals are reluctant to help, and Paula is feeling the strain of being heavily pregnant and living alone.  All the while the pressure is rising to find the remaining abductees before summary justice is administered.

The Silent Dead explores the moral boundaries around the execution of justice after the perpetrators of an atrocity become the victims of vigilante action.  Freed on a technicality the members of the Mayday Five, responsible for a bomb explosion in which sixteen people are killed and dozens more injured, have been abducted and are being killed, phrases from their defense argument left in their mouths.  Lawfully they are entitled to the same protections and justice as everyone else, but many of the police were on duty the day of the bomb and local people, especially those who lost loved ones, have little sympathy.  While the story is set up and unfolds as a crime thriller, McGowan sympathetically explores the moral ambiguities of the case through the work of her central character Paula Maguire and two other lens: that of a local child who lost her sister in the bombing and the narrative of a non-fiction book about the bombing and subsequent trial.  Maguire is an interesting character with her own hauntings from the Troubles – the disappearance of her mother when she was a child – and a complex personal life which involves close contact with the two men who could be the father of her unborn baby, her boss and the local newspaper editor.  Despite being heavily pregnant she is determined to more than her fair share of work and wherever Maguire goes trouble follows.  While the main narrative following Maguire is compelling and gripping, the two other lenses are somewhat of a distraction. In particular the extracts from the non-fiction account adds little and is repetitive and certainly gives the impression that it would be terrible read if read in full.  There’s an inevitability to the denouement but nonetheless The Silent Dead is an interesting, absorbing fast-paced story with never a dull moment and the best in the series so far, I feel.

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