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Why Irish crime novels are the answer

Why Irish crime novels are the answer

“Now in a wonderful wave of Irish crime fiction, we have a better way of dealing with terrible spouses — we kill them.” 

—Catherine Murphy on tight, creepy, twisty Irish crime novels

by Catherine Murphy

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.

Once upon a time, there were stories we told our children, and ourselves. The same characters, over and over again, in slightly different shapes and sizes. The same stories. One beginning, one middle, and one end. And these old tales became, unknowingly, our hidden path in life as we grew up.

The path of romance and fairytale:

We must be born beautiful / handsome / slightly-damaged-but-not-too-messed-up / exceptionally good at horse riding.

We must have a quirky best friend. (Preferably an actual mouse.)

And as soon as we hit adulthood, we must fall in love with the very first person that kisses us and then instantly get married. The same day.

And that’s the end.

Sound familiar?

Then, and only then, following these rules, will we live happily ever after. From Cinderella and Snow White to the Boy Wizard stories, even if we are fighting to save the world, the entire end point was to get married and that’s it. Done.

And now, at long last, we can call bullshit on all of it.

Terrible spouses

Today, we have great children’s stories. All kinds of tales in all kinds of worlds, showing us that life is about more than just the born / kiss / married race. But as adults, some of us still carry the hangover of these tales in our reading-blood. 

We know Rochester was an arse, Elizabeth Bennet was only in it for the big house, Anna Karenina was a nightmare and Rupert Campbell Black is a serial abuser, a man who is repeatedly seen torturing animals—and there’s no doubt that Wesley should have left the obnoxious Buttercup to her fate, in the Princess Bride—and yet these books fly off the shelves to be held in the hopeful grip of those of us who still believe we can change the poor, broken sociopaths if we just love them enough.


From Campbell Black to Buttercup, we really, really can’t change them. But now in a wonderful wave of Irish crime fiction, we have a better way of dealing with terrible spouses.

We kill them.

Poison. Fire. Stabbing. Shooting.

Shoved down a well with the corpse of their enemy.

Stacks of brilliant crime novels

From Catherine Ryan Howard to Liz Nugent, Arlene Hunt to Sam Blake, Benjamin Black to John Connolly to Tana French, sociopathic fictional behaviour is no longer tolerated, and as readers we have been freed from our early lessons.

As autumn comes, there are stacks of brilliant Irish crime novels in the shops. Some of them have horrible spouses in there. Some of them don’t. I’m hardly going to tell you who-dunnit. But all of them have the tight, creepy, twisty Irish crime writers’ way of spinning a tale that will keep you up all night for all the right reasons.

Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard

Smart, well written crime with characters that live solidly from the page. Stuffed full of suspense and place, it celebrates all that is creepy in the woods, and in the dark. Run Time is also a lot of fun, in a horror kind of a way.

Using a screenplay within the story—don’t worry, it makes perfect sense when you’re reading—the book centres around the filming of a horror movie, and about so much more.

As always with this author, there are stories within the stories within the stories…

I’d like to see what Catherine Ryan Howard would do with Rupert Campbell Black. 

While She Sleeps by Arlene Hunt

Crime with heart and soul, Arlene Hunt gives us truth and lies, and family, in some of the darkest corners of the thriller-writing world. 

A rural family. A thick-walled farm house. A cold, cold world. 

I was instantly gripped – such an overused term, but in this case the only one. I was turning pages too fast, reading too quickly, forcing myself to slow down. 

My tea went cold.

Arlene Hunt’s plots are always strong but While She Sleeps had an extra grip for me, and I loved how as with all great detective fiction, we follow the stories of those who are solving the crime, as much as the crime itself. 

If Arlene Hunt rewrote Cinderella she’d haul them all over the coals. The ugly sisters would get what was coming.

Deadly Shores by Kerry Buchanan

Ah, for another bit of detective-ing to ditch the autumn blues, Deadly Shores is fast paced and very readable.

I guessed and guessed and got it wrong every time, but then that’s part of the fun. The third in this great series, and each one leads us nicely to the next (she says, whilst screaming at the author for leaving us on the edge.)

And Kerry Buchanan wouldn’t let Buttercup mouth off like that to Wesley. She’d know how to handle her.

Unfollow Me by Judith Cuffe 

Eve is one of those women. Beautiful. Lucky. Nice. We meet her when she’s wearing a beaten up Barbour jacket and big old boots and we’re thrown into the world of social media and likes, and friendship. It’s clammy and creepy, but it keeps itself firmly in the more commercial side of crime writing, and hopefully will tempt readers from the world of romance over to the dark side…

If Judith Cuffe had written Sleeping Beauty, maybe we’d learn never to trust the shiny things. 

Writing the end

There’s a deep-set love of words here in Ireland. We love our stories. We love to shape our experiences into a tale, but romance isn’t real. 

Sadly, crime is real. It’s here. There. Everywhere.

And in crime fiction we can take control of what happens to us. We get to write the end. 

And if you upset us, if you cross the line, the army of Irish crime writers each know at least three undetectable ways of killing you. 

Catherine Murphy