I read a lot of thrillers and crime novels. This one is a pleasure. It’s the second novel by Louise Phillips and will, I think, establish her firmly as a significant player among Irish crime writers. Last year her debut novel, Red Ribbons, was shortlisted for the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year. The Doll’s House, in my view, is much better and should certainly feature again.

The setting again is Dublin. The Doll’s House reintroduces us to criminal psychologist and profiler Dr Kate Pearson and Garda Detective Inspector O’Connor. Kate is married but it’s a marriage with “issues” with an absent husband , while the unattached O’ Connor continues to drink heavily to combat some inner demons. Their “will they – won’t they” pavane continues but takes a surprising twist en marge of the hunt for a double killer.

Cue the plot and characters. A T.V. personality is murdered, the body found in Dublin’s Grand Canal near Leeson Street Bridge. The victim – an Irish Jeremy-Kyle-style presenter – is soon revealed to have his own seamy side. He was stabbed , then drowned in the canal. Several days later another victim is found in the same canal several bridges away. Both are approximately the same age, but the second was a homeless man. Copycat killer or the work of the same man? Gradually the story unfolds and links emerge to another mysterious death by drowning three decades earlier.

Much of the novel is narrated in the first person by Clodagh, daughter of the drowning victim, a woman seeking to come to terms with a past which puzzles and haunts her. Another portion is narrated from the point of view of the killer, who explains his mission, but not the reasons for it.

The other main characters include Clodagh’s husband, Martin, a singularly unpleasant creature, and Clodagh’s brother, Dominic, seemingly overprotective of his sister. Throw in a nasty low-life acquaintance and a strange, shadowy and manipulative businessman/politician and the scene is set for an interesting and intriguing novel, with Kate and O’Connor striving to find the killer before he strikes again. The past must be revisited for the clues vital to a solution.

The past IS revisited throughout in a series of fascinating and riveting episodes in which Clodagh consults a hypnotherapist and is led back, step by step, to the events surrounding her father’s death and that of her baby sister all those years ago. These passages are easily the most impressive in the book, though the sub-plot, of the evolving relationship between Kate and O’Connor, is also handled skilfully, with the reader being in little doubt that the next book will carry the saga forward. As the secrets of the past are revealed, the book builds toward its breathless climax.

To say any more might spoil the enjoyment of readers. But one final comment. The characters around which the plot develops are, with the exception of a low life chancer, middleclass and relatively affluent by Irish standards – a large house on the front in Sandymount , another on the Estuary in Malahide, denote money. Indeed one of the other characters in the novel remarks bitterly “ Not everyone grows up with a view of the sea, do they?” And, for all their money, these comfortable lives are dogged and eventually ruined by tragic events of the past. There are echoes here of the world explored by Ross MacDonald. Louise is finding her voice, and it’s a good one.

August 17 2013


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