Book review: Trouble Is Our Business

Traumatised souls. Murderous housewives. Wise-cracking hitmen. Bloody revenge. It’s all there in this excellent collection of short stories from Irish crime writers.

Edited by Declan Burke

New Island, €19.95

Búla bos to editor and crime writer Declan Burke and New Island for Trouble Is Our Business. The collection of 24 productions receives the endorsement of no less than Lee Child in a foreword.

This is not exclusively a collection of crime writing, with contributions here that could easily sit in book sections marked Ghost Stories, Horror and Sci-Fi.

There’s a sense of careful planning in the writers selected — with a more or less equal representation of genders and both sides of the Border.

Burke says that the first half of the book is dominated by male writers and the latter half by female ones, representing the trend over time.

Actually, all the relative newcomers are women — Niamh O’Connor, Louise Phillips, Sinéad Crowley and Liz Nugent.

There are entertaining reads: Phillips’s murderous, frustrated housewife in ‘Double’; Gene Kerrigan’s trademark slice of gangland noir in ‘Cold Cards’; a wise-cracking killer, deliciously executing vigilante justice, in Ken Bruen’s ‘Miller’s Lane’ and Alex Barclay’s pulsating four-page blast of blood-soaked Americana in ‘Roadkill Heart’.

There are troubling tales, driven by social issues of domestic violence and child neglect-come deceit, in Arlene Hunt’s ‘Thicker than Water’ and Adrian McKinty’s ‘Fivemiletown’.

There are some stories that don’t work, but they are buoyed up by the overall quality.

There are first-rate contributions from Colin Bateman, Eoin McNamee, Julie Parsons, John Connolly, Stuart Neville, William Ryan and Jane Casey.

Bateman delivers a stunning vignette, tightly-packed in just seven pages, of a traumatised North in ‘The Gaining of Wisdom’.

We are presented with a mother doing her supermarket shopping, the most ordinary of scenarios, where she is jolted back to past traumas when she sees the killer of her teenage brother “in an aisle devoted to spices and condiments”.

The power in this story and the beauty of the writing are worth the price of the book alone.

In a slightly more demanding, and successfully-crafted, story, Eoin McNamee also deals with the trauma of the North in ‘Beyond the Bar, Waiting’ — this time tracing the brutal treatment of children.

It is a sad and haunting tale and, given recent inquiries in the North and fresh revelations in the south, a well-timed contribution.

‘Kindness’ by Julie Parsons runs at a more measured pace, which makes its success as a story all the more impressive.

She paints a lonely but captivating main character in elderly Gwen Gibbon, who is dependent on, and treasures, acts of kindness in a noisy, bewildering and cold world.

John Connolly’s eerie ‘The Evenings with Evans’ made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Revenge is the engine for the tale, but it’s the setting and the assured writing, which serve up a ghostly, Gothic tale, that makes this story particularly satisfying.

In ‘Green, Amber, Red’, Jane Casey gives us a deeply unsettling yarn, more like a horror story, of a warped couple with a deeply twisted take on parenting.

Also unnerving, in a spooky way, is William Ryan’s ‘Murphy’. The unnamed protagonist, his mind fractured by a terrible act of violence, walks the beach, where he meets a mysterious woman and his memories begin to reassemble.

One of the most powerful offerings, perhaps surpassing Bateman’s tale, also comes from a northerner in Stuart Neville. 

‘The Catastrophist’, set along the lawless borderlands, initially jarred in that it seemed to this reader to borrow too heavily from events in real life.

However, the quality and sincerity of Neville’s work adds weight, rather than any insult, to that injustice.

It is a deeply moving, but also thrilling, read, following a killer, traumatised by his own actions, facing a stark choice of lesser evils, with the stake on the decision his own life. Top-notch stuff.


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