Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review of The Confession by Jo Spain (Quercus, 2018)

Harry and Julie McNamara are watching television when a man walks into the front room of their luxurious mansion and beats Harry into a coma with a golf club then leaves. An hour later JP Carney hands himself into a local police station and confesses to the crime. He claims he does not know the McNamaras, selected the house at random, and cannot rationally explain his actions. This seems somewhat dubious given that McNamara is a notorious Irish figure, famous for running the bank that collapsed the country. Recently McNamara was acquitted in the case being taken against him by the state for financial malpractice. Carney, however, is insistent he has no connection or axe to grind against McNamara. While Julie tries to come to terms with the attack, JP is moved to a mental illness clinic for assessment, and Detective Sergeant Alice Moody investigates the case, convinced there is more to the assault than a random explosion of violence.

The Confession is an in-depth character study of two people involved in a violent incident. JP Carney walks into the home of Julie McNamara and beats her husband, Harry, into a coma then hands himself into the police. JP grew up in a dysfunctional family, moving from London to Cork, then Dublin, as a kid. Julie met Harry - already the owner of a bank in his twenties - while a student and married him shortly after. They seemingly have little in common and their paths have not crossed. Detective Sergeant Alice Moody is convinced that there must be a reason for JP’s actions, while everyone else is happy for the case to be mothballed – Harry McNamara was famous for precipitating the crash of the Irish economy and JP seems to be suffering from mental illness. Jo Spain tells the story from the perspective of Julie and JP, giving a detailed back story of each, and also narrates Alice’s investigation. In this sense, the story provides the confessions of Julie and JP, revealing the context and fallout from the attack. The three narratives are all nicely told, creating a rich sense of the character and lives of Julie and JP. The hook is whether there is a reason for the attack. While the character narratives work well, the thread following Moody’s investigation is more problematic. Portrayed as a talented detective, the investigation strategy was sloppy and had one fatal flaw that nagged away at me for most of the novel and was acknowledged in the story right near the end when one of the characters exclaimed “how the fuck did we miss that?” Which had been my thought for quite some time. Overall, an engaging, character-driven read that suffers a little from a shaky investigative thread.

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