Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for A River of Bodies by Kevin Doyle!
Here’s a little info about the book:
In this sequel to his impressive debut novel To Keep A Bird Singing, Kevin Doyle delves further into the murky world of the powerful Donnelly family and their association with the Catholic church and the security forces. The clock is ticking as Noelie and his friends try to uncover the network of corruption and deception that the family have used to protect themselves and their operations. But Albert Donnelly is onto Noelie and there’s nothing he won’t do to stop him.
And about author Kevin Doyle:
Kevin Doyle is from Cork and works as a writer and creative writing teacher. He has been published in many literary journals, including Stinging Fly, The Cork Review, Southwords and The Cúirt Journal. He is the winner of a string of awards, including the Tipperary Short Story Award (1998) – first; Over The Edge New Writer Of The Year – shortlist; Hennessy Literary Awards (2011) – shortlist; Seán Ó Faoláin Prize (2013) – runner-up; Michael McLaverty Short Story Award (2016) – winner. In 2018, he published his first novel, To Keep A Bird Singing. He lives in Cork
And here’s Paul Burke’s review of A River of Bodies:
“In Cork now, it all looked quite different. Noelie could feel the pinch of financial ruin just walking along the streets. Parts of the city appeared to be closed for business and there weren’t even that many people around.”
A River of Bodies is a true noir and the bleakness of the landscape in this brief description of the city Noelie returns home to is a reflection of the post crash climate and prescient of the maelstrom he’s about to step into. Doyle has a fresh take on one of the driving forces behind Irish crime literature: systemic child abuse at the hands of the church and state. It’s a powerful tale that comes from the stories of generations of local young people scarred by the system and the bad people around them. It’s well told but this novel is not for the feint of heart. This is for the reader who likes their thrillers gritty and real.
Solidarity Books in Douglas Street no longer exists but it was set up as an outlet for protest and a hub in the fight against austerity, it was a place for meetings and to exchange radical ideas. It’s spirit is very much at the heart of this novel, which is alive with a punk, rebel vibe. Noelie Sullivan and his pals are a unique band of amateur detectives, they are activists but they don’t just protest societies inequalities, they investigate the city’s broken past at considerable personal risk. They work with and for the survivors of the industrial schools to track down the abusers who have never faced justice. A River of Bodies deals with historical child abuse, delving back into the dark territory Doyle first explored in To Keep a Bird Singing. I would recommend reading that novel first, there is a closeness to the narratives that is more than just the shared theme and common characters, it’s not essential though it’s easy to follow the ongoing story.
A lot of Irish crime fiction revolves around this issue but this is a book that deserves to be read, different enough to stand out. Noelie and his pals investigate where the bodies are buried and, commensurate with the title, there are plenty of them to find, and, of course, one or two will join them in the present as well. This is a chilling thriller because it deals with such a grave issue (bad pun intended). Doyle’s novel addresses a shameful part of Irish history and in its own small way, by shedding light on an essential truth the way fiction can, it is part of the revealing and healing process. The industrial schools were a national disgrace, as was the children’s homes scandal in Britain, no doubt it’s the same in America and, sadly, all over the world too. The Cork industrial schools, reimagined not invented for this novel, Danesfort and Greenmount, are the background to the story. They were a living nightmare for many of the children sent there; everything from abuse, physical and sexual, to slave labour and, even, baby selling (Bessborough). These institutions not only survived but their appalling regimes thrived with the collusion of the church, police and politicians. Doyle has woven his fictional story into the real tragedy of these Cork institutions to great effect.
Albert is looking at photos, studying them carefully, the person who sent them knows too much. There’s one of his close friend Father Brian Boran, taken at his family home in Ballyvolane, Cork, in ’62 or ’63. Another of Leslie Walsh and other pictures that refer to more unnamed men suggesting the sender is looking for more accomplices to Albert’s crimes. The sender even intimates that they know about the Youghal boy. Albert can’t stay in Bucharest, he misses Cork, misses Llanes.
Noelie Sullivan arrives at court 4 late, his sister Ellen Sullivan is already seated. The inquest into the death of his nephew Shane is about to begin. Shane went missing just after Noelie threatened to expose a Special Branch operation that infiltrated Sinn Fein, he believes they already killed Jim Dalton to maintain the mole’s cover. Did they kill Shane to shut Noelie up? Discrepancies in the evidence bring the proceedings to a halt.
Noelie makes his way back to Hannah’s apartment. Katrina is still staying there, she was a stalwart at Hannah’s funeral. This is no longer her home city but Katrina says she’s staying, she wants to help Noelie with the investigation. He’s resistant because these people have killed six times to protect their secret; three men in the seventies, a Branch officer in 1998, another last year and now Hannah. Katrina is determined though, Black Gary told her it would be a group decision (Maebh, Martin, James), not Noelie’s choice whether she can join them.
The group want to help the victims as much as expose the abusers and they have contacts all over the world chipping in. Noelie thinks Albert Donnelly killed Hannah, he was supposed to have drowned shortly afterwards, but Noelie doesn’t believe that. They are investigating the Let There Be Light charity, they have some strange beliefs about cleansing bad blood (sin attached to the children) and links to Danesfort, which was run by the Romanians. The charity has orphanages around the world, supposedly to combat prostitution and sex trafficking but there are links to the killing of Archbishop Óscar Romero in El Salvador and eugenicist theories. Noelie and his friends have to deal with the fact that Albert’s brother was head of the Gardai in Cork city too.
A lot of people want the past to remain forgotten, they will stop at nothing to see that happen, so Noelie and his friends are risking everything . . .
This is fiction but it rings true, A River of Bodies chimes with the stuff that is out there because of the real inquiry and court cases. The novel has a very Irish feel; everything from the involvement of the diaspora from the homes to the pitch perfect setting and the religious/political climate that helps with the mood of the novel. This is a heart breaking story and must have involved some dark hours of research but it was worth it. This is a thriller with bite and emotional impact. Sad, tragic and real.
Cork-born Doyle is revelling in his darker side here, he is more famous as the writer of Children’s book The Worms that Saved the World.
Paul Burke 4/3
A River of Bodies by Kevin Doyle
Blackstaff Press 9781780732336 pbk Jul 2019