Deadly Intent: Thriller set on the Beara peninsula

ONE of the reasons Irish crime writing took so long to develop as a body of work is Ireland lacked the kind of large, anonymous urban settings where crime fiction tends to thrive. 

Deadly Intent: Thriller set on the Beara peninsula

Deadly Intent

Anna Sweeney

Severn House, €14.99

Review: Declan Burke

In the era before the Celtic Tiger, in an Ireland characterised by its squinting windows, the identity of a murderer was often known even before gardaí arrived on the scene, which rather undermined the suspense element of a ‘whodunit’.

There were exceptions – we can go all the way back to Gerald Griffin’s The Collegians (1829), or more recently Patrick McGinley’s superb Bogmail (1978) — but it took a very brave writer to place an Irish murder mystery in a rural setting.

The rise of Irish crime fiction has redrafted the parameters, to the point where Anna Sweeney can set her debut novel Deadly Intent on the Beara Peninsula and hardly raise an eyebrow (the novel was originally published as gaeilge as Cló Iar-Chonnacht in 2010).

The story opens with the discovery of an unconscious woman on a remote hiking trail; her name is Maureen, and she is a guest at Nessa McDermott’s country house Cnoc Meala (Honey Hill). Ambitious young garda Redmond Joyce (“clean-scrubbed and shiny”) is keen to solve the crime as a ticket away from the easy-going pace of life in south-west Ireland to the more adrenaline-charged environs of a big city posting, but soon the entire community is shocked to discover that Maureen’s alleged attacker, millionaire businessman Oscar Malden, has been brutally killed.

As a media feeding frenzy descends on Beara, and gardaí begin to wonder why Nessa’s husband Patrick has departed the country for Malawi at this crucial time, Nessa – herself a former investigative journalist – sets out to discover the truth behind Oscar Malden’s murder.

What transpires is a murder mystery that firmly inhabits the ‘cosy’ end of the crime fiction spectrum.

“Jack makes it all sound like a James Bond film,” observes one of Nessa’s friends about a tabloid hack making hay from the tragic events, but the country house, the idyllic rural backdrop and Nessa’s status as an amateur detective suggest that Deadly Intent is a charming throwback to the ‘Golden Age’ of 1930s mystery fiction. That said, the story is highly contemporary: one subplot involves a Russian ship and its crew abandoned by its owners in a nearby port, while drug smuggling on the southwest coast also features.

One of the novel’s most striking features, unsurprisingly, is its use of the dramatic landscape, vividly sketched by Sweeney: “Behind them, Beara’s great backbone of the Caha mountains stretched out along the peninsula. Ahead of them … the dark waters of Lake Glanmore in the embrace of shapely hills; beyond it, a quilted blanket of fertile farmland and abundant hedges; and on neighbouring Iveragh peninsula across the slender rim of the bay, the tip of Carrantouhil, the country’s highest mountain, rising up to the clouds above the muscular shoulders of the Reeks.”

While beautifully written, there is perhaps a little too much by way of descriptive digression in Deadly Intent, and Nessa’s roundabout way of investigating the murder — which has, admittedly, the ring of truth; in rural Ireland, as with the Beara’s topography, the quickest route between two points is rarely a straight line – nevertheless slows down the main narrative and the investigation. Those with patience will be rewarded, however, by a mystery with plenty of twists and turns, entirely faithful to its time and place.

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