The Body Falls by Andrea Carter – Review
By Richard Mansfield
This is the author’s fifth novel in her ‘Inishowen Mystery’ crime series, a series which is said soon to be a major TV serial, presumably in Ireland. However, it is the first time I have encountered and read one of Andrea Carter’s books.
Inishowen? Not well known perhaps, but it hosts Ireland’s most northerly point – Malin Head in County Donegal – which gets a mention everyday in Radio 4’s shipping forecast. It is in places a rugged, beautiful and predominantly rural peninsula, but one well-populated nonetheless, having been one of the so called ‘Congested Districts’ at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and one which had much earlier been blighted by the infamous ‘Irish Potato Famine’.
So, not quite the setting for a hotbed of crime and murder perhaps, but when an ‘event’ comes to the main town, Glendara, bringing in outsiders and their ‘baggage’, things can and do change. In fact dramatically so, especially when atrocious weather and horrendous flooding intervene to disrupt and complicate the scene. Incidentally, the weather emergency is based on real events in Inishowen during 2017.
The story is seen from the perspective of Benedicta (Ben) O’Keefe, a solicitor returning to her singleton practice in Glendara after a balmy six months placement in Florida, working for an American law firm.
Arriving back in town, Ben finds the main square unusually crowded with bikes, their trappings of equipment and personnel for a charity fund raising, a long distance cycling event that is to start the following day from Malin Head. The intended destination is the southernmost point of Ireland some days and many miles later. It is already raining torrentially and so much so that over the ensuing weekend the peninsula is progressively cut off by floods and substantial damage to crucial bridges. The start of the cycle event has to be put back and while climate change might easily be cited as a potential culprit, this is not alluded to!
So Ben has returned to this small town, in which she has had her practice and office for a number of years, to find its centre in relative chaos. During the first evening of the ongoing narrative most of the essential characters to this story are introduced to each other, and to us, mostly, but not exclusively, in the warmth of the pub; both locals and the off-come-dens, many of whom are to be involved in the event’s scheduled start the following day. Homely ones, enigmatic ones… a plethora of characters upon which to build a strong mystery that has yet to unfurl when one of their number is later found dead.
We also learn that Ben has unfinished romantic business with the local Garda sergeant, Tom Molloy, and it is from her bed that they are woken in the small hours by a call to Molloy’s mobile phone to explain that a body has been found in the remote Mamore Gap, some miles out of town. Seemingly it had fallen inexplicably, at a very unsocial hour, onto the bonnet of the local vets car while she was out on a call to a calving.
And so the story has truly started and the mystery develops progressively brick by brick with Ben and Tom seemingly playing supporting and almost equal roles in investigating the death. With many characters, their circumstances and their histories there is plenty for the reader to ponder upon.
With four Inishowen novels behind her, Andrea Carter has written a masterful, intricate and gripping tale that has many strings and threads to draw together, and she achieves this artfully and without confusing the reader too much. It is indeed a good and well-constructed page-turner, and it concludes with a teaser, a kind of introduction to her next book perhaps. In fact the situation that may next involve O’Keefe and Molloy is alluded to near the beginning of this tale itself, after she returns to Ireland from Florida, staying briefly in Dublin with her parents, but before actually reaching Inishowen itself.
As a former solicitor and barrister now turned full time author Andrea Carter has had experience and insight to draw upon for her now several novels. However, as a newcomer to the main characters, Ben O’Keefe and Tom Molloy, I felt at some disadvantage because their backstories were rather insubstantially drawn here. So much so that I found myself querying something as simple as, ‘Just how old are they?’, or ‘Just why and how has this unusual partnering developed?’ I was rather left feeling that the writer assumed she was writing almost exclusively for her already established audience. Nonetheless the pace of the story carried it forward so well that in the end that doesn’t seem much more than a quibble.
Something which did seem rather discordant though in this whole scenario is that, for much of the time Ben, a solicitor remember, comes across as the principal sleuth who seems to be driving the investigation forward, to the extent that she might appear to overshadow Sgt. Molloy and his sidekick, McFadden, in their own more official endeavours. But then, to be fair, the two Gardi didn’t have the back up that was required for a rapid investigation and were also dealing with a weather emergency.
Assistance, which they would ordinarily rely upon, couldn’t reach them, the case had to be resolved soon and the killer was found before the floods subsided and the roads off the peninsula re-opened. Presumably she had helped Molloy previously on investigations in some way to earn his trust and certainly she proved to be the crucial ‘extra brain’ needed on the case. Would such a close and unofficial relationship be feasible in real life, given the professional boundaries? During the story Ben does consult her ethics manual for solicitors on matters relating to her clients and quandaries she feels herself to be in, but what it might relay about a general practice solicitor working alongside the police on criminal investigations is left unsaid.
The main town ‘Glendara’ is a fictionalised name, but the other villages and localities referred to do not appear to have been anonymised much at all. But, for the sleuths among us, a quick look at the map, for those unfamiliar with this part of Ireland and yet curious, should easily be able to identify its real name.
As previously mentioned, and perhaps mindful of her next novel, the author concludes this story with a cliffhanger as to what may feature in her next could. The trick to writing for a television series much in mind perhaps?
On the basis of The Body Falls it should be another good read.
‘The Body Falls’ by Andrea Carter is published by Little, Brown £13.99 paperback