This week: a new thriller from Westmeath’s finest crime writer

This week there’s a Covid novel, yes another one, but a beautifully written one, set in a remote spot on the County Down coastline. Keeping the watery theme going, there’s a superb piece of Scandi Noir involving an underwater discovery from a multi-award-winning Swedish author.

Closer to home, but still very noir, there’s a new thriller from Westmeath’s finest crime writer, who also is one of Ireland’s finest crime writers. And finally, a novel about identity, displacement, exile and friendship from a writer who knows what it’s like to be conflicted.

Night Swimmers, Roisin Maguire, Serpent’s Tail, €16.99

Roisin Maguire is an award-winning writer of short fiction who lives in Downpatrick and this is her first novel. In this story, 50-something Grace has settled in the coastal village of Ballybrady, and if she has to spend the rest of her days in splendid isolation, then so be it. She’s happy to swim daily in the sea, carry on with her small quilting business and be surrounded by the wild beauty of the coast. What Grace doesn’t know is that Covid is on the way, lockdown will soon change everything, and that a gaggle of sea swimmers will hijack her secret, hideaway beach nearby.

Lockdown will also affect Evan, who has rented an Airbnb in Ballybrady in the hope that he can recharge his batteries after a shattering breakdown. He is destined to spend longer here than he planned, as all travel is forbidden and he can’t return to Belfast. His troubled son then arrives, further complicating matters. But Grace will find a way through the pandemic, as will Evan and Luca, as their paths intertwine and the solitary life that Grace had planned for herself is changed forever.

Little Bones, Patricia Gibney, Sphere, 14.99

While the last decade of the last century saw an avalanche of scandals involving child abuse and neglect by the church, the decade just gone was to reveal multiple scandals involving Tusla and the bad choices they made when it came to fostering. It’s a whole other horror story and forms part of the complicated history behind DI Lottie Parker’s latest case. The skeleton of a baby is found on a sacred site that feels very like the ancient Hill of Uisneach. Meanwhile, a wife and mother has been beaten to death in her own kitchen, in front of her baby. Everything points to the husband, an insolent and intolerable man, but a man with an alibi.

Another mother, a friend of the dead woman, goes missing along with her child. There’s a connection with these two cases, along with the baby’s bones, and Lottie has to find it. It’s another page-turning winner from Gibney with a plot that even the most precocious crime fan could not guess at.

Deep Harbour, Tove Alsterdal, translated by Alice Menzies, Faber, €13.99

This is the third novel in a series, and although reading the others may have helped, it’s a standalone and gripping story. As the April ice melts on the Angermanland River, divers are charged with checking out an old, submerged wreck that’s lain undisturbed until now. They find more than they bargained for, as the body of a man is discovered, one who was murdered approximately 50 years beforehand. Detective Eira Sjodin, pregnant and on desk duty, is assigned the case. The more Eira uncovers about the case, the more it seems to be tied directly to her own family. And she has enough on her plate since she doesn’t know who her baby’s father is.

The nub of this many-stranded plot is a slice of history I’d guess few of us know anything about, that is the welcoming by Sweden of deserters during the Vietnam war. And so this story goes right back to the 1960s and inevitably there are old neighbours in Eira’s small town, as well as members of her family, whose names come to light as more is revealed. It’s one shock after another in this excellent thriller, delivered deadpan and not just by Eira, there are several narrative voices here. Strong stuff and superb storytelling.

My Friends, Hisham Matar, Penguin Viking, €17.99

A hasty and ill-considered decision to attend an anti-Gaddafi protest outside the Libyan Embassy in London will have far-reaching consequences in this novel about displacement, torn loyalties and lifelong friendships. The protagonist, Khaled, leaves Libya in 1983 to study in Scotland. Although not an agitator, he knows his father is secretly opposed to Gaddafi’s torturous regime and when the opportunity presents itself for Khaled to attend a protest, he gladly goes along. The protest actually happened and what the crowd didn’t know was that there were Libyan secret police among them who eventually opened fire, killing an English police officer and injuring several protestors. Khaled is one of the injured. He can’t go home, can’t even write home as he knows now his letters and calls will be intercepted. He is granted asylum after his discharge from hospital and continues his life in the UK.

He makes two Libyan friends in the UK in the years that follow, and this book is also the story of friendship, of common bonds and of people thrown together in the wake of tragedy and exile. Matar won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2016 memoir, The Return, about his father’s disappearance during Gaddafi’s reign and his own futile attempts to find him. My Friends is fiction, woven around fact, from a man haunted by the injustices of his past. It is poignant and beautiful.


The month-long Francophonie Festival is in March, hosted by the Alliance Française and includes, among other things, free screenings of French films during the month at the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin. This is a celebration of everything French, including talks and debates on French literature and culture. Check out for the full programme.

The ’Finding a Voice’ festival takes place in Clonmel from Thursday March 7 to Sunday 10th. In celebration of International Women’s Day on the 8th, it showcases the talents of women composers and musicians at home and abroad. See for programme and tickets.