Double review: City of Lost Girls by Declan Hughes & The Priest by Gerard Donovan

Double review: City of Lost Girls by Declan Hughes & The Priest by Gerard Donovan
Published in The Sunday Business Post on June 20th, 2010, reviewed by Alex Meehan

The key question facing would-be crime authors is how to strike an original note in what is perhaps the most cliché ridden of literary genres. Some attempt to carve a genuinely new literary furrow, while others are happy to take advantage of the literary conventions expected of them – the fans know what they want, why not give it to them?

Declan Hughes’s hardboiled Dublin detective, Ed Loy, gets to go back to where it all started in the City of Lost Girls, as Hughes places him in a caper that sees Loy travel from Dublin to Los Angeles, the spiritual home of the cynical private dick.

And with Loy, this is exactly what you get – a detective unashamedly cast in the mould of a long tradition of jaded, burned-out, West Coast investigators.

With movie studio subplots and a cast of characters drawn from both high society and street level criminality, all the ingredients of a classic detective novel are here, as Loy is drawn back into a life he thought he had left behind.

Famous Irish filmmaker Jack Donovan asks Loy to look into a series of threatening letters he’s received, all of which contain a religious theme. Donovan thinks an estranged family member may be behind the religious threats.

At the same time, a couple of young extras have disappeared from the set of his latest movie being shot in Dublin. In order to complete the film, he needs them back on set. Donovan and Loy go way back, but have officially fallen out, and Loy is wary of being drawn back into his old friend’s narcissistic dramas. A paying gig is a paying gig, though.

Meanwhile, most of the crew assume that the missing extras have merely gone on a boozy bender. However, Loy starts to think something isn’t quite right about the situation.

Fifteen years before, three girls went missing in similar circumstance from the set of a movie Donovan was involved with in Malibu, California, and Loy becomes convinced there’s a connection.

When the bodies of the first set of missing girls are discovered, Loy jumps on a plane to California to see if one crime scene can shed light on another.

Loy is also struggling to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, Anne Fogerty – and a recently released convict from his past seems to be intent on causing the private investigator some problems.

City of Lost Girls isn’t a particularly original book, but it’s all the richer for it. It’s a comforting read that toys with some very well-established convent ions and doesn’t attempt to redefine the genre. Hughes knows what his readers want and is happy to give it to them – a splash of scandal, a glimpse into high society shenanigans and thinly veiled descriptions of the fictional antics of actors and musicians.

Meanwhile, Gerard O’Donovan’s debut novel, The Priest, is an enjoyable account of Detective Inspector Mike Mulcahy’s attempts to snare a religiously-fixated attacker stalking the streets of Dublin. Recently returned to Ireland from Spain, where his infidelity brought about the end of hismarriage, Mulcahy is sunk in melancholy.

He’s back living in the decaying family home where his recently deceased parents raised him, and pondering a career that seems to be going nowhere fast.

When the daughter of a high-profile Spanish politician is brutally attacked and branded with a red-hot cross, Mulcahy is drafted in for his Spanish language skills, a move that doesn’t go down well with the inspector on the case, Claire Brogan, or her smarmy sidekick Andy Cassidy.

But Mulcahy perseveres, convinced that Brogan and Cassidy’s prime suspect is not the real culprit, and that the Priest has struck before. When he’s not chasing down the killer, Mulcahy is spending time with ambitious reporter Síobhan Fallon.

Fresh from a scoop involving the extra-marital adventures of the wife of the coach of the Irish soccer team, Fallon is on the lookout for her next big story when an anonymous tip guides her in the direction of Mulcahy’s case.

There’s more than one clichéd character in the pages of O’Donovan’s book; Fallon, in particular, is almost a caricature of a careerdriven professional woman with little time in her life for anything but her job.

But in Mike Mulcahy, O’Donovan has created a well drawn, multi-faceted cop who readers are likely to want to spend more time with in the future.

In Claire Brogan, he has also given a glimpse into the life of a character that has the potential to be far more interesting than Fallon.

In his next book O’Donovan could do a lot worse than expand on the themes of Brogan’s unhappy marriage, and her struggle to combine motherhood with a demanding job.

The Priest is an impressive debut, with a well paced plot and enough twists to keep the reader interested until the last page.

But O’Donovan is prone to hyperbole at times, and the eventual capture of the Priest is perhaps a little too overblown. Still, most of the issues with the novel are small ones that could be easily ironed out by the time Mike Mulcahy tackles his next case.

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