‘If anyone finds out, we’ll hang for what we’ve done'

This week there’s a tense novel from an Irish author who has made her mark in suspenseful and twisty tales. There’s a YA novel, told in verse, about a terrible crime committed on a teenage boy.

There’s a story about a courageous young woman whose father goes missing, set on the Welsh borders in the late 19th century. And a family saga with a dual timeline, set in Cork in the 1950s and Maine in the present day, is an intriguing plunge into secrets that have crossed generations.

The Birthday Weekend, Zoe Miller, Hachette, €17.99

The novel opens with a breaking news story in the Kerry Herald in January 2023. Local Gardaí are investigating a body found in suspicious circumstances in Wolf Cove, near Kenmare, and another person found nearby in critical condition. They won’t say if these findings are related to a rescue operation on the previous Saturday when they hauled a car, containing a body, up from the sea. Stella, living in Dublin, knows that the car is her sister’s. She knows Lucinda’s car plummeted into the Atlantic during a birthday celebration bash the previous summer. What she doesn’t know is why Lucinda would have driven into the sea. And she also doesn’t know why she herself is now being trolled online.

She contacts Lucinda’s friends, for the first time since the accident, to inform them she’s going back to Kerry and asking them to come along. She has no idea of the nightmare that awaits her. Miller’s 14th novel is full of suspense from the get-go and the reader ends up wondering who, if anyone, they can trust in this multi-layered whodunnit.

The Lighthouse Secret, Carmel Harrington, Harper Collins, €15.99

In a dual timeline story, the author moves between Ballycotton in 1951 and present-day Maine. The prologue presents four lighthouse keeper’s wives in Ballycotton, waiting on their husbands to return home after their shifts, when one woman among them says: ‘If anyone finds out, we’ll hang for what we’ve done.’ It’s a great opener and keeps the reader suspended throughout the story. Mollie is a young woman in Maine who takes an interest in her Irish family history, which leads her back to the Cork coast, the homeland of her ‘Nana Beth’ and a place where a terrible secret has been kept for decades. But that secret is now in danger of being revealed.

As the timeline moves back and forth there’s a Romany Gypsy tightrope walker and a Mr Darcy-type of character who both breeze into town. There are young, impressionable women about and Ballycotton in the 1950s was not the tourist town it is today. Harrington wears an impressive amount of research into Irish lighthouses very lightly as she weaves through 70 years of history, and her large legion of fans won’t be disappointed.

Trigger, CG Moore, Little Island, €10.99

This YA book comes with an age 14+ recommendation, and I’m no expert on teenagers but I guess you could say it depends on the 14-year-old. Maybe age 16+ might have been a better idea, but even for a seasoned adult, this is a difficult read. Based on the author’s similar but not identical experience, it tells the story of Jay, a young gay boy of 17 who is drugged and gang-raped and abandoned in a muddy park, left there to wake up bloodied and badly injured. He remembers nothing of the assault and most of the narrative is concerned with his recovery rather than with the nightmare of the crime itself.

Written entirely in (non-rhyming) verse, it describes the boy’s deeply disturbed state of mind in the immediate aftermath, and his slow journey through an emotional and physical recovery, helped by counselling, friendship and the love and support of family. Probably one of the most disturbing elements of the story is that one of the perpetrators is a guy he’d considered to be his boyfriend at the time. And so, issues of trust are explored in depth, making Jay not only a victim of a vicious crime but of utter betrayal as well. Not a book for the faint-hearted, no matter what their age.

Eliza Mace, Sarah Burton & Jem Poster, Duckworth, €24.99

A lot of the delight of this mystery novel is in its immense style and elegance. Set in the 1870s on the Welsh borders, the language is utterly credible, almost Dickensian, and the attention given to minor domestic details of the day is impeccable. In the opening of the novel, Eliza, 16 years old, is woken in the middle of the night by an argument between her mother and father in the hallway of their crumbling manor. She gets out of bed and so does her uncle James, also a resident in the house, to witness her mother pleading with her father not to leave, and to at least tell her why he must take off at such an ungodly hour. Her father has his ‘trunk in the gig’ and his driver is waiting. He can’t be persuaded to stay.

It’s not the father’s first mysterious departure, but on this occasion he doesn’t return. And feisty Eliza is intent on finding him, along with finding out why, as her mother has said, these trips leave the family financially worse off than they were before. ‘What kind of business is it?’ her mother pleaded with her father, ‘that leaves you poorer than when you set out?’ As Eliza embarks on her quest to find her father, she teams up with the local village policeman, Dafydd Pritchard, and a relationship of sorts develops. This is a superior, slick and stylish historical whodunnit, beautifully rendered, and the good news is it’s the first of a series.


For the month of April, there will be a slew of events related to Louise Nealon’s brilliant novel Snowflake, this year’s One Dublin One Book choice. (And if you haven’t read the book, please don’t miss it, it’s exquisite.) The events are free but require booking and they’re happening all around the capital. Full details can be found on onedublinonebook.ie.

The NLI (National Library of Ireland) continue their programme of online events throughout the year. See nli.ie/exhibitions-events for details.