Jessie Boyle, a criminal profiler, has suffered a devastating loss. The serial killer known only as Uruk eluded her and then killed her partner. Grief-stricken, she returned home to the west of Ireland, only for one of her oldest friends to call in a debt – because another killer is at large.
For decades, women have been taken from Cahirsiveen, their bodies being found on ancient burial grounds. Now another woman, Penny O’Dwyer, has been taken and her family has been given a deadline – if Penny is not found by Samhain (aka Hallowe’en), then the monster known as Balor, a figure from Celtic myth, will take her life.
As the clock ticks down, Jessie’s only source of information is another monster, a serial killer who has been locked away for years. But is he somehow involved in the crimes? And is Uruk really done with Jessie?
Yes, it’s a second review in a row for “things that sit on my Kindle that I have no recollection of buying so it must have been 99p”. I’ve absolutely no idea why I bought this one – someone must have recommended it to me – and no real reason why I decided to read it now. Glad that I did, though, it’s really rather good.
The central trio of characters – Jessie, police officer Seamus Keneally and genealogist Terri Kehoe – all have secrets and shadows in their pasts, but Dunphy, while never taking these traumas lightly, also never allows them to dominate the narrative. For a serial killer tale, this never wallows in the gratuitous details of the crimes, focussing far more on the “good guys” rather than the villains. Worth noting too is how while this does set stuff up, I presume, for future novels, it never loses its focus on the story herein.
The supporting cast is good too, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of them in future titles. Having put all that praise in, I should point out that while this is a whodunit, that aspect isn’t handled as well as the rest of it. The lore of Balor behind the killer’s motivations are fascinating, but the killer couldn’t be more obvious, to the reader at least.
It is hard to hide the villain in a proper killing-people-at-random serial killer, as there tends not be room for many suspects, and that’s the case here. It’s basically a case of, if it’s going to be a surprise, it must be X but that wouldn’t be a surprise but I’ve no better ideas. It’s the only quibble I have about the plot, and the rest of it – the writing, the pacing, the characters, the tension – was more than enough to keep the pages turning and turning.
Oh, there was one other thing – almost every section is opened by a quote from an actual serial killer. Could have done without that, they don’t need memorialising. Although extra points for the quotation that opens the last section, a quote from a true hero from my generation…
So overall, a very good, extremely readable police procedural with some of the strongest central characters since Poe and Tilly from M W Craven. Eagerly looking forward to the next one…