The city of Cork is the second largest city in the Irish republic after the capital Dublin, but is often considered by its residents to be the real capital. It could have something to do with having the second largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney and the oldest yacht club in the world, founded in 1702. The city’s other claims to fame are, it was the location of the first Ford factory outside of America and the “Rebel County” of Cork is the largest county in Ireland.
I have a connection to the county, my mother’s family are from West Cork. I was only down there in July for a family birthday. As well as that, the city is home to one of the largest Jazz festivals outside of New Orleans, which takes place in October each year attracting over 40,000 visitors annually. Cork is also home to Noel “Noelie” O’Sullivan, the central character in this month’s first book review, its River of Bodies by Kevin Doyle and is published by Blackstaff Press (www.blackstaffpress.com) in June this year.
River of Bodies is the second book in The Solidarity Books trilogy following To Keep A Bird Singing, which was published in 2018. The books follow the journey of small time activist Noelie Sullivan as he continues his investigation into the powerful Donnelly clan, who were mixed up in the goings on in an industrial boys school in Cork back in the 60’s and the murder of a IRA informer, and its cover up by the Irish Police Force’s Special Branch unit in Cork. In the process of his research, his girlfriend and nephew have been murdered. His own life and the lives other close friends have been threatened.
It all started with the fairly innocuous theft of some classic records from Noelie’s flat ten years previously and when, he by chance, discovers them in a charity shop at the start of the first book he also finds the confession of an ex Garda and a sheet of paper with the name of ‘Brian Boru’ (an old Irish king) in a couple of the LP sleeves. Early on in River of Bodies, his neighbour and friend dies from his injuries after a mysterious single car accident. As the trail takes him well beyond the county border and internationally, how many more deaths must Noelie and his close family and friends endure before they can unearth the truth?
One of the draw backs reviewing a literary series, is that I and my fellow bloggers/reviewers regularly get in at the second or third book. Now in most cases, there is enough back story to plough on regardless. I was sent the first book in this trilogy as well, this time around and I was glad it had come too. As I attempted dive straight into River Of Bodies, only to discover 20 pages in, that there were quite a few references to what had preceded in the first book. So back I went and read it. There’s a funny story from our book group of one of our members picking up the second Hunger Games book inadvertently instead of the first one and then sitting there in the meeting all confused trying figure out what we were talking about…
You know from the outset that Doyle is onto a winner with these books owing to the topic and the other primary ingredients. Yep, kids, paedophiles and that old reliable, the religious orders.
If this trilogy is anything, it comes across a bit like an Irish take on The Millennium series, except their success was helped by the untimely death of its author Steig Larsson. Here’s hoping Kevin Doyle is in good health and the only thing he will need to achieve the success of this series is his great writing.
Our hero Noelie, is nothing special, just an ordinary Joe. A middle aged man, between jobs, whose only real claim to fame was a failed attempt to embarrass President Ronald Reagan at Shannon Airport when he visited Ireland in 1984.
I liked Noelie, but probably wouldn’t hold the same political views. Ireland maybe neutral but the American soldiers transiting through Shannon are helping the local and wider economy. Noelie maybe taken from Doyle’s own character, he’s an activist too, Noelie probably doesn’t want water charges, while I’m of the view nothing in this world is free and when we start rationing water, you’ll have to pay then (Soapbox away now)
The support cast, ergo the ragtag group of friends are all regular people too… real earthy characters. There’s a previous occupant of the industrial schools, Black Gary, who sounds more like a pirate than a social avenger, Martin, Noelie’s gay neighbour,along with Meabh (a real nod to Lisbeth Salanader).
This is Irish Author Kevin Doyle’s (www.kevindoyle.ie) third book. Before writing To Keep A Bird Singing, he wrote a children’s book, The Worms Who Saved The World with Spark Deely (2017). Kevin has a masters in Organic Synthesis from University College Cork and has worked and lived in Australia and America, before returning home to Ireland where he now lives.
The story in both books is set ten years ago, during Ireland’s struggle to get out of the recession following the banking crisis. Everything seems real enough bar technical things which seemed a bit unbelievable for the law enforcement agencies of a bankrupt country which could hardly keep its fleet of vehicles on the road let alone eavesdrop on conversations using a person’s phone, especially when iPhones were still in their infancy. But again it all goes to help Doyle ratchet up the suspense around the mystery and the numerous disappearances and murders that occur.
My reading of the book with an English tainted accent probably didn’t do it justice and I’d love to hear it read in a local Cork accent. Foreigners or people like my wife from the East Midlands of the UK, may need to listen to it a couple of times if listening to an audiobook of this story.
So, if you’ve never been to Cork; then now maybe the time to go, in the company of the slightly rogueish Noelie Sullivan and his friends. Then once you read both of these books, get yourself on a cheap flight to there just in time for the Jazz festival and see what the lovely city on the River Lee has to offer.
Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy
This book is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below, Then if you read the trilogy, come back and tell us what you thought.