The third DCS Frankie Sheehan novel.
I’ve been with DCS Frankie Sheehan from the start, she really went through it in Too Close to Breathe (2018), the impressive, emotionally wrought debut thriller that introduced Olivia Kiernan as a strong new voice in Irish crime fiction. It was a more than decent serial killer/police procedural that had a real feel for its terrain and gave us an intriguing, enigmatic protagonist. Then there was The Killer in Me (2019), featuring a double murder in a Clontarf cemetery and a cold case that placed the original investigation and the Dublin Garda under close scrutiny. This was a more restrained and measured story. Now we have If Looks Could Kill, this for me is a test point, does Frankie Sheehan have longevity? I think she does. Kiernan’s writing has developed, Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan is now a fully rounded character. When it comes to the story less is more, enough complexity to make the case intriguing but delivered in a more settled style, while retaining the passion. Frankie still has an enigmatic edge, but now readers can really identify with her more fully, get where she’s coming from more readily. Whereas, she was difficult to know in the first book because she placed a wall around herself to avoid being mollycoddled or pitied by colleagues after an ‘incident’ in the past from which she was recovering, (although readers had more insight than colleagues). Frankie is still living with the effects of her first traumatic case and she’s in a contemplative mood as this novel opens. Frankie does not suffer fools gladly or put up with the macho Garda crap, and when it comes to a case she is truly fierce.
Dublin, a public garden, children playing, a mum with her baby. Rory McGrane stands outside the park gates, he watches, he’s hot but he doesn’t really notice that, he’s troubled, distracted, what he has to do isn’t a matter of choice. A woman sees the gun in his hand, she’s frozen to the spot, he places the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger.
Frankie is thinking about the past, about her dead father, the warm feeling of security before she knew him better. Seeing him in his uniform, righteous, good, a Guard, a hero. There were two sides to the man, there always are; the real man and the image he presented to the world, some are good at hiding the truth. Frankie is good at hiding the physical and mental scars of the past from the people around her but not good at letting people in.
Baz Harwood, her partner at the Bureau for Serious Crimes, is giving her a lift to the Gardai awards, she’s presenting a prize, this is a much needed boost for the force after recent bad publicity. Baz is distracted at the moment, he has a new girlfriend, it’s all about Gemma. On the way to the venue they run into a traffic jam, an incident, the party will have to wait, Frankie steps out to investigate the problem. When she gets them to let her through t the scene she sees the man, mid-twenties, lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, pleading with another eejit who is standing over him with a knife. Squabbling over drugs, Frankie manages to talk the knife wielder down. Back in the car:
‘What was that?’ Baz asks.
‘Dublin,’ I say.
When she wakes the next morning there’s a man in her flat, he doesn’t want it to be a one night stand but Frankie wants him to go. Her life’s too complicated for commitments. There aren’t a lot of officers at the Bureau after last night’s celebration. Frankie runs a tight ship anyway, her team has a ‘relentless determination’ that comes from her lead, budgets allowing, of course, everyone knows their job within the team. A new case comes in from the sticks.
Debbie Nugent, fifty-five, has gone missing from her cottage five miles outside Ballyallan, Wicklow, last seen by her daughter three days ago. Why has this come to the Bureau? There’s enough blood to assume it might be murder. The disappearance was reported by David Sutton, the boyfriend, and there are two daughters, Kristen and Margot. Margot lives with her mother but didn’t spot anything, didn’t query her mother’s absence. Kirsten lives in northern France and only arrived after the event. Frankie liaises with the local cops who are willing but not really up for a murder case. Last seen Debbie was believed to be heading to Dublin on the bus, she moved here from the city in 1993, she had no mobile and no one knows who she might have been going to see. Frankie launches a full investigation. Margot is the obvious suspect, living in the crime scene for three days and claiming no knowledge of anything that might have happened. The search is on for the body, there’s little hope of finding Debbie Nugent alive, but in the rural mountains that’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. As the investigation unfolds, a family past comes to light that suggests there’s more going on here than Frankie thought, the case may leads back to Dublin.
DCS Frankie Sheehan is a great character, feisty, brittle, brave, determined, and her inner voice is fascinating, one of the things that really drive the story. Kiernan has an eye for details that make If Looks Could Kill feel authentic and gives it a solid grounding. The prose is tight, pared down, and clean. The case far more complex and satisfying than it first appears which is very satisfying. Irish crime fiction is in plentiful supply, make room for Frankie Sheehan on your shelves.
Paul Burke 4/4*
If Looks Could Kill by Olivia Kiernan
9781529401059 Quercus Riverrun Hardback July 2020