When a newborn baby is snatched from its mother's arms, in 1975, it destroys the life of a young woman and causes ripples of trauma down through the years. But she is one of many, and goes unnoticed, like them all.
Thirty five years later, and a brutal murder is uncovered in Dublin's Phoenix Park. The victim is elderly and has suffered a grisly death. DI Tom Reynolds and his team are called into to investigate. Before long, they discover a link to Ireland's sordid secret, The Magdalene Laundries. While they are offered assistance from the nuns of a former institution, they are met with a veil of secrecy and decades of Catholic hierarchy. Could one of the religious order be involved in such a personal killing? Could they commit such a sin? One thing is clear. The past is catching up on the convent and DI Reynolds needs to get there first...
Dublin author, Jo Spain, has debuted with gusto. This is not only another crime fiction book, in an already busy genre, it is a character based novel with a good bit of bite to it. DI Tom Reynolds is a protagonist that lingers. A good family man, not perfect, yet likable. Thankfully, he is not like other 'troubled' Inspectors. No drink problem, no sneaky cigarettes, no lusting after his female partner. and no shady dealings within the force. Just a genuine guy, doing his job, missing his wife and worrying about his daughter. This is refreshing, as a lot of crime fiction has the angst-ridden hero who battles inner demons alongside their cases. Not so with Tom. He has a great team, male and female and a comical driver to add to the mix. The make up of the investigative team is well rounded, with plenty of scope to feature them in subsequent novels.
The narrative is strong. While we are all aware now of the horrors behind the walls of the Magdalene Laundries, the author somehow manages to make it feel fresh and sharp. There is no blurring of facts, or large canvas brushstrokes. It is focused and fair. There is balance added with the stories from the nuns too. Far too often there is a general dogmatic approach to the sisters who worked behind these walls, although it is known that there were individuals who were also horrified with the circumstances in the laundries. Jo Spain acknowledges these nuns and yet still portrays the events with fact-based honesty.
This is a novel of tension, suspense and stories. Stories from the past and the present. From a convent in rural Ireland, to a police force in Dublin. The Gardaí are well presented, doing their jobs, intent on finding out the circumstances surrounding the murder. They are just like any of us. Doing their best, while making a few mistakes along the way. The convent is well described, with echoes of its heartbreaking past. The atmosphere is multi-layered, depending on the area of the building, or which sister is in the room at the time. I did lose track of the nuns at one point, and had to turn back a few pages, but not enough for me to lose focus. This is a page-turner, no doubt. The warmness of the characters made it an extra special read, with the added feeling of reading a modern Agatha Christie tipping it into one of the best crime thrillers I have read for a while. I applaud Jo Spain for this debut, and for introducing DI Tom Reynolds to us. Book two better not be long coming. We need more books like this...
With Our Blessing is published by Quercus and is available in paperback and ebook format. You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 23% discount, here.
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