Book review: Are You Watching Me?

RTÉ’s arts correspondent Sinéad Crowley has come up with a carefully structured police procedural that can stand shoulder to shoulder with many of the offerings packing the crime shelves of your local book shop.

The style of the book will not set it apart in the well-worn and over-subscribed grooves of the genre.

However, what Crowley brings to the table is a couple of less common ingredients that gives her new book its character.

She brings homelessness into her story in a sensitive and quite interesting way.

Rather than looking to high society figures to bring cheap glitter and fairy-dust to her pages the emphasis instead is on those at the margins.

Older men living alone and others on the streets because of addictions and life problems of one kind another are not always the first choice at central casting for crime novels.

Without being preachy or heavy-handed several homeless characters are given a big part of the story here.

Another element that she brings to the table through her particular sleuth, Sergeant Claire Boyle, is childminding and work-life balance.

Unlike the hard-drinking, lovelorn detective of many the routine crime yarn Sgt Boyle agonises over childminding and domestic issues as she also tries to crack the case.

And the correspondent-cum-crime-writer was present for the advice pedalled on day 1 at writers’ school, write about what you know, and there is a good bit of TV interviewing and media stuff along the way.

The story that is set up at the start is of a young woman, Liz, saved from her own demons who gives something back by working at a kind of day shelter for lonely old guys.

Crowley’s own sense of human decency comes through at this level in the book.

The first fly in the ointment is the stalking of Liz and the clammy little letters of fandom that develop into something more sinister after her appearances on TV to talk about what goes on in the shelter.

And then inevitably there is a murder followed by another one.

Crowley decides to leave to other writers the grizzly post-mortem stuff.

The book feels so neatly structured that it comes as some surprise that there even is some surprise as the plot twists in the end.

The themes floating through the story include abuse, school bullying and cruelty at home.

More interesting are the cover-ups and corruption in the name of pillars of community that wreck lives as part of the collateral damage.

The strengths of the book are the sheer recognisability of people and places and social dynamics as they are brought to life.

And it is not a book that takes the American or the English and just throws in a few Irish characters, there is a very real sense of this as an Irish crime thriller.

A weakness that comes with the careful structuring and sensitive characterisations is that at times the book itself runs the risk of being a little too polite for its own good.

Even when a domestic row threatens there is divil a fear that it will become the full-blown opera with blood on the floor, you kind of know that it will wrap up nicely for the nice people.

That is by no means a fatal flaw but at times there is that lack of edginess and not much by way of humour.

However, Crowley is not about looking for shrill drama.

The book goes about its business quite astutely and entertainingly.

Best of all her characters and storylines are credible and have an unforced contemporary ring.

Are You Watching Me?

Sinéad Crowley

Quercus, €7.99


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