Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review of The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney (2017, Sphere)

Susan Sullivan tries and fails to contact the police before heading to Ragmullin cathedral to confront her past. She’s found a few hours later at the foot of a pew strangled to death. Detective Inspector Lottie Parker is assigned as the lead investigator. Shortly after interviewing Susan’s boss, local planner James Brown, he is also found strangled at his home. Besides working together, the two victims both have identical tattoos on their inner thigh. Lottie’s investigation leads her to St Angela’s, a former children’s home that is slated to be re-developed as a hotel and golf course. A cabal of powerful interests are behind the project, and with the planning application pending they’re determined to protect their investment. But Lottie’s digging suggests that the murders are rooted as much in the past and the victim’s childhood as the present.

The Missing Ones is the first in the DI Lottie Parker series set in Ragmullin, a small Irish town. In this outing Parker tangles with two issues that have dominated Ireland’s recent history – Church scandals concerning children’s homes, child abuse and adoption, and cronyism, clientelism, and planning and development scandals. Set over a freezing winter, Parker and her team investigate the deaths of two planning officers and their links to former children’s home, St Angela’s. In so doing, she tangles with several influential people with interests in the site including a bishop, a developer, a local government manager, and a bank manager, each of whom knows her superintendent, who tries to rein in her confrontational approach. Lottie, however, is determined to get to the truth, even if that means neglecting her three teenage kids, and when a priest from Rome is found dead the pressure to bring the killer to justice mounts. Gibney’s strategy for holding the reader’s attention is to keep the pace and tension high throughout, the body count and abductions mounting, and to create as much drama in Lottie’s life as in the case itself. It works well in terms of maintaining interest and keeping the pages turning, but also works to mask the unlikeliness of much of the plot. Almost the whole of Lottie’s family are integral to the case – her son and daughter, her mother, her brother, her best friend. She’s also in an will-they-won’t they relationship with her sergeant and is jousting with her boss. Gibney uses a series of obvious plot devices to keep things on track – not answering phone calls, talking in front of suspects, idiot boss – and the denouement was somewhat contrived and over-the-top (but then that’s common enough for the genre). My one other quibble was Ragmullin was so obviously Mullingar (as the anagram denotes) why not just use the real name? As long as one suspends belief and doesn’t press too hard on conspiracy plot, or Lottie’s tangled personal connections to it, and thinks of the story as a thriller rather than realistic police procedural then it’s an engaging and entertaining read.

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