This week: a superb novel that reminds us it’s not just younger men whose thinking requires some adjustment when it comes to sexual relations
This week there’s a YA thriller, a first from a writer who usually writes for the adult market, there’s also a beautifully written fantasy adventure for teenagers, there’s a ghost with attitude helping out in a whodunnit, there’s a Caribbean honeymoon that gets… er… a bit spoilt, and there’s a superb novel about rape culture that reminds us it’s not just younger men whose thinking requires some radical adjustment when it comes to sexual relations.
Something Terrible Happened Last Night, Sam Blake, Gill, €12.99
A birthday bash for a 17-year-old girl in her home results in one of the partygoers being discovered behind the sofa, dead as a dodo. He’s been stabbed in the back (literally rather than metaphorically) and every youngster at the party is a suspect.
This is south County Dublin on the Dart line, where all the best private schools live, and most of the characters attend either the local boys Raven’s Park or the girls Raven’s Hill schools.
They all know one another and therefore suspicions are raised early on, most of them pointing to Rob Doyle (not the writer, I hasten to add!), who’s already got a juvenile conviction.
Social media, of course, plays a huge part in the plot in this very 2023 murder mystery, where the cops aren’t acting fast enough and three of the girls decide to do some investigating of their own.
This is a YA first from Sam Blake, AKA Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who has written several well received adult thrillers and who, as a literary agent, founded the writing.ie website, and organises the hugely successful Murder One festival.
It’s a perfect read for the teenage market and, unlike a lot of YA, it’s also an intriguing page turner for an older readership.
Ghostlord, Philip Womack, Little Island, €11.99
Also for the 12+ age group, Philip Womack’s latest novel is a fantasy in which sixth-form protagonist Meg moves with her mother to a small rented cottage in the countryside.
For a quiet life, you’d imagine, but things are far from quiet there. Meg stumbles on an old toy horse with an obsidian mirror inlaid in its head. Through the mirror Meg sees a young boy who’s been trapped in the mirror for 500 years.
He begs Meg to set him free and with her friend Skander, that is what Meg intends to do. But there are dark forces afoot and nothing here is as it seems.
Once again, Womack weaves dreams, reality, legend and history into another superb, stylish classic.
Don’t Look Back, Jo Spain, Quercus, €17.99
Rose and Luke are on honeymoon in the Caribbean, while back home in London there’s something Rose left behind that she’s a little reluctant to admit; she’s just killed a guy and left his body in their flat.
The guy probably deserved killing and Rose killed in self-defence, but still. Usually, we return from holiday hoping that we switched the immersion off before leaving and that the lawn isn’t knee-high and the garden plants haven’t died.
Rarely, in my experience, would we be worried about a decomposing cadaver stinking up the gaff.
Luke contacts his old friend Mickey Shiels, a woman who used to work in law and now works outside of it, when necessary, to help victims of domestic violence.
Rose is such a victim, and the dead guy is the guilty party who, some years beforehand back in Ireland, made Rose’s life a living hell. The solution might seem cut and dried – just get rid of Stinky and get on with their lives.
But this story has more twists and turns than the road from Athboy to Delvin and is pure edge-of-your-seat stuff from the get-go.
It’s been very well received and deservedly so.
Grave Expectations, Alice Bell, Corvus, €14.99
Here’s a murder mystery with lots of heart and heaps of comedy. Psychic medium Claire is called to a country manor to do her stuff at a birthday party.
Claire has an edge on other mediums in that she can actually see, as well as hear, the ghosts who communicate with her. She’s not long at the manor when she realises that a murder has been committed on the premises recently.
And since nobody seems to know anything (or nobody’s owning up), Claire decides to investigate. She does that with the help of her best friend, Sophie, who was killed as a teenager and whose ghost has been in Claire’s company ever since.
They never did find out who murdered Sophie. Add a local retired copper and his sidekick to the sleuthing for this stately manor murder and the team is solid.
Full of fun and intrigue, with an added touch of clownish, old-fashioned gentry interfering all over the place, this book’s a winner.
Service, Sarah Gilmartin, Pushkin One, €13.99
This is the story of a rape trial told from three characters’ perspectives. Firstly, there’s the accused, Michelin-starred chef Daniel Costello, now in his late 50s and insisting on his innocence.
Secondly, there’s recently divorced Hannah, who spent a student summer working in Daniel’s restaurant years ago. And there’s Daniel’s wife Julie, who hopes that the ex-waitress Tracey, the one who has brought the charges, will rot in hell forever for her lies.
The three characters unspool the story one by one, and it’s so cleverly done that the reader has no idea if Costello is guilty or not till very near the end. He’s always been a frisky old dog, but he’s no rapist, surely? All three narrators are at variance, leading the reader to ponder the validity of ‘my truth’, such a popular concept nowadays, as opposed to ‘the’ truth, although ‘the’ truth often gets short shrift in a court of law.
This three-part composition of variations on a theme drives the story home, with considered and weighted observations on the myriad ways in which some men always manage to overstep the boundaries.
It also explores how the simple act of changing one’s mind can be the most liberating achievement of a lifetime.
All of the considerable accolades that have been heaped on this novel are justified. It’s magnificent.
The Hinterland Festival of Literature and Arts in Kells is happening this weekend, June 22-25 and there’s so much going on, truly something for everyone, including the rugrats. See hinterland.ie for programme and details.