Friday, April 12, 2013

Review of "Black Irish" [29]

Black Irish by Stephan Talty
Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345538062
February 26, 2013, 336 pages.

Absalom “Abbie” Kearney never expected to move back home. She grew up in Buffalo, in an insular Irish-American community on the south side called "the County", “a patch of Ireland in the wilds of America”.
But plans change.

She left home and went to Harvard, then off to a successful career as a police detective in Miami. But when her adopted father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she returned to care for him, returned to a bleak Buffalo, a city that is even more depressed than the city she left. Especially, she has returned to "the County", an Irish- American enclave in south Buffalo, that like the city at large, has seen better days. The factories and plants that once lined the waterfront are closed, houses boarded up, drugs and crime all too common, the highways, built for workers and commuters, now empty
"When she told her partner Z about how odd she felt driving Buffalo highways, he’d asked her why. She’d brushed it off then, but now she knew why. It’s the emptiness. The enormous emptiness. Or the loneliness, that was it, the feeling of being alone in a place that should be filled with other people, cars full of families headed to the supermarket, to the restaurant on the lake, to the hockey game. Buffalo had built miles of highways during the book years, enough for a million people. The people that were going to come, but didn’t. Why not? Where’d they disappear to? What happened to them?" 
A good place perhaps for Abbie to again make her name as a first rate homicide detective though, because murders are not rare.

It started as just a routine missing person case, when Jimmy Ryan disappeared from his meter reading route. As usual, his friends and family will have little to say to an outsider like Abbie, even though she suspects they have some idea what happened. Even though she grew up in the County, the adopted daughter of a respected cop, she is not really one of them. She attended the weddings and funeral receptions at the Gaelic Club, the heart of the community, when she was a girl, but knew she was only grudgingly accepted because of who her father was. No, they will keep their secrets, even when Jimmy's body turns up, terribly beaten and tortured. The strange little plastic toy monkey left at the scene, especially when another turns up at the next grisly murder, left them know they have something different on their hands his time. A serial killer that appears to be targeting men from the "County".
Then one of these strange little monkeys turn up on the apartment of Abbie and her father. Will one of them be the next intended victim, and what happened in the past that may have caused this very disturbed, very angry kill to seek his revenge?

Although the author has written several best selling non-fiction books, this is his first fiction work and a very worthy effort it is. The plot is clever and fast paced, with a few twists as the story progresses that I never saw coming. A good sign. And the characters, especially Abbie, are quite good, even if Abbie is not the most sympathetic person. Actually, maybe she is better for that.

But for me the real winner of this book was the setting. First we have the weather. It is winter and it is oh so cold and snowy and icy and gray. Then we have the city, both declining the Buffalo itself and the declining Irish-American neighborhood. It is grim and realistic, and I say this as one who grew up in my own declining city and declining Irish-American neighborhood. I remember those first generation Irish immigrants, with there Irish flags and their love of the angry rebel songs. Talty nails the feeling. The murders are gruesome, I will warn you, but if you enjoy a good psychological police procedural this is one you will want to check out.

My thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.


  1. Most of the books in this genre have stepped up their gore, so that would not bother me. But I always want them to be about more than the gore. Character study? Setting? Exploration of a unique plot line? Glad this one worked. I'm interested!

  2. It sounds like this is a well written addition to the genre.


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!