Sunday, May 26, 2013

BLACK IRISH by Stephan Talty: Fantastic Thriller Debut

There is nothing in BLACK IRISH that "tastes" of debut author, although it's the first thriller from Miami/New York/Dublin writer Stephan Talty. He's also written five "true" adventure under his own name and was the ghostwriter (I hope with a contract that allows him to say so!) for A Captain's Duty by Richard Phillips.

Still, the sustained pace of an Irish-linked suspense novel set in Talty's hometown of Buffalo, New York, takes a different set of skills than biographies of tumult and danger. As Detective Absalom ("Abbie") Kearney tackles police work in her own hometown of Buffalo, after a prolonged absence from the Irish district in which she's grown up, there's a lot of doubt about whether she can handle the job. It's not her background that's lacking -- other police officers are lining up to work with her, as she has that special grit and insight that bring top results. But in the County? That part of Buffalo that has no tolerance or kindness for outsiders? She may have been raised on location, but heck, she was adopted, and she left for Harvard, and ... she's clearly not one of the boys, is she?

If you've kept up with recent Irish detective fiction by, say, Tana French or Stuart Neville, BLACK IRISH will fit your collection -- even though the action takes place in the States, its ties to the IRA and "the Troubles" increase, along with the violence and stubbornness of the people around Detective Kearney. Her own struggles with inside/outside status mirror the joy and the darkness of Irish history and heritage. And along with strong drink, Abbie finds connections and clues at the local Gaelic Club. Her partner Z, short for Frank Zangara, already knows her tendency to overcommit and to plunge into true Irish depression. But will Z still believe in her when all the evidence is against her?

I couldn't put this one down. The pace is brisk and relentless, the action highly believable, and the layers of Abby Kearney make a detective that I want to read again. Although the book ends softly, without hinting at a sequel, the cover blurbs say "thriller series" and I'm sure Talty has more in the hopper.

Which, by the way, is an excellent reason to read his first thriller right away ... to be ready for the next one. It's a pleasure to settle into the hands of a pro and realize there will be twists, tension, and police risk ahead -- American Irish style.

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