Graham Masterton's 'Living Death' paints vivid picture of fictional Cork detective

MULTIPLE murders in Montenotte; hostages in Blackpool; gangland kingpins strolling around Cobh and now deadly dognappers and drug smugglers battling for supremacy in Cork — gardaí in Graham Masterton’s world definitely don’t have it easy.

And senior garda Katie Maguire is a bit of a danger magnet. 

Living Death is the seventh in the Katie Maguire crime series and it’s as firmly set in Cork as all the others.

Masterton, an Englishman, lived in Cork for a few years and certainly kept an eye on street names and an ear open for pure Corkisms.

Characters rove from Henchy’s pub in St Lukes to Blackrock Castle and stop off at the Long Valley or Douglas village as well. 

And high-speed chases — whether on foot or in cars — take all the local geography into account along the way.

Often we are so used to watching American crime dramas that their lingo of arraignments and felonies seems normal to us now — so it can be unusual initially to see Masterton describe a character as “fierce crabbit altogether” or to hear someone agree by saying “chalk it down”.

The up-and-down Cork accent gets a great airing in these books too: “He pronounced ‘with you’ as ‘whichew’, like a hay-fever sneeze.” 

And local idioms are liberally scattered throughout — a dad points out that his son is a big boy now cos “You’ll be starting at the Mon after the holliers.” So when bad things happen to these people — and there’s plenty bad stuff to go around — it almost feels personal.

Though, like Irish-Americans who come over all Aran sweaters and turf-smoked salmon when they arrive in their ancestral land, Masterton might go a bit mad for certain Cork quirks. 

If people actually drank as much Tanora as his characters do then I’d say the manufacturers would make the Forbes Top-10 Most Valuable Brands.

If some of the plotlines seem naggingly familiar it’s because they are clearly influenced by real-life Irish crimes and incidents.

Masterston has previously acknowledged: “I went for a walk and had a think. I’d ended the [previous] book I’d delivered on a cliff-hanger.

“I thought of where that could lead, and I looked up news stories in the Irish Examiner, to see what could be turned around into a story.

And just as real crimes and court-reports often make horrific reading, Masterton’s books don’t shy away from gritty cruelty or injuries. So, don’t expect Bord Failte- approved larks by the Lee.

When a character in one of the books is brutally rammed against the railings on Brian Boru Bridge by a criminal in a Land Rover, the crime is described in graphic detail: “Even at only 5mph it had rammed him against the balustrade so hard that his stomach had burst open and his intestines were sliding out between the blue-and-white cast iron uprights and dangling in loops over the river.”

While this is a crime which could happen anywhere, it’s only in Cork that a witness might comfort the victim thus: “You’re going to be grand altogether so long as you don’t move. You’re all intertwangled with the railings like, do you know what I mean? If you move at all you’ll just pull yourself apart.”

One small quibble though: as a journalist who has heard enough garda-speak about ‘veh-hickles’ to last a lifetime — the gardaí in these books are super-helpful to the fictional Echo and Irish Examiner journalists who keep popping up at crime scenes. 

At one press conference the gardaí thoughtfully give the journalists the name and address for the owner of a car that may have been involved in an incident and even mention that they haven’t been able to trace them yet. 

However, for crime yarns that roll along at a great pace and are set literally on our doorstep, these are great reads.

Living Death

Graham Masterton

Head of Zeus, €8.95

Review: Caroline Delaney

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