Although I only read four books for it I did enjoy the Ireland Reading challenge, hosted by Carrie at Books & Movies, very much, not least because it introduced me to two authors who I think will become firm favourites. They couldn’t be more different.
Alan Glynn’s Winterland is a fast-paced tale of family and politics set against the backdrop of a very modern Ireland, almost at the exact point at which the country’s current economic and political woes began. I read the book at the beginning of the year but its characters and clever construction have stayed with me ever since. I recently purchased Glynn’s latest novel Bloodland which I aim to read early in the new year.
Cora Harrison’s Scales of Retribution is a slower paced tale which takes place 500 years earlier, though it is still a fiercely Irish story which incorporates a whodunnit into an exploration of Gaelic law and its superiority over English common law.
I also read Ken Bruen’s Priest which was outstanding. It loosely uses the conventions of the genre to explore recent changes in Irish society, especially the changing relationship between the Catholic church and Irish people. Of course I’ll keep reading Bruen too but I had discovered him last year (late to the party, I know) so don’t count him as a discovery of this particular challenge.
I enjoyed Jane Casey’s The Burning too but as the only one of the four books to be set outside the country it doesn’t have the same sense of Irishness as the others. It’s full of suspense though and has some well developed characters.
I do actually have a fifth book which I was going to read for the challenge. It’s Aifric Campbell‘s The Loss Adjustor but I don’t think I’ll get to it in what’s left of this year. I liked the sound of it though (even though I’m not sure it’s crime fiction at all) so I’ll read it next year even without the motivation of a challenge.
One of the things I found most noticeable when looking for books to read for this challenge was the relative dearth of female Irish crime writers. Although not absolute about it I have been trying to achieve a vaguely even gender balance in my reading and so was particularly struck by the gender disparity, especially when compared with other countries with an emerging crime fiction scene (e.g. Sweden, Australia, Scotland).
I’ve read both Tana French and Alex Barclay before and if I’m being honest neither would make it to my list of favourite authors so I was keen to try out some new writers for this challenge. I was not exactly burdened by choice, especially not of current female writers. The Irish Book Awards had a crime fiction category this year which shortlisted 5 books (scroll to the bottom of the link), of which 1 and a half were written by women (Casey Hill is the pseudonym for a husband & wife team). Declan Burke, champion of Irish crime fiction, lists 21 books published this year as eligible for his Crime Always Pays Novel of the Year Award and only 4 and a half of these are by women (Casey Hill appears here too). In fact of 101 authors listed as Irish crime writers on Burke’s site I think only 19 are women (I did check all the people with initials or gender neutral names but I could have gotten a couple wrong).
I’m not really making any point or claiming any great insight on this issue and would welcome any thoughts from people in the know. I wonder for example whether there are loads of Irish women trying to get their crime fiction published or whether Irish women aren’t bothering to write the genre at all?