Absalom Kearney series from Stephan Talty
Stephan Talty is an Irish-American author primarily of non-fiction and probably his highest profile work is “A Captain’s Duty” which formed the basis for the recent Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips”. Over the last couple of years he has published two crime fiction novels featuring Detective Absalom Kearney of the Buffalo PD who shares the author’s Irish-American background and accordingly gives a slightly different perspective to Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy Troubles trilogy that I wrote about recently. The second book in the series, Hangman, is due to be published May.
Book #1 “Black Irish” is set in “The County” – an Irish-American stronghold in Buffalo and features the activities of Clan na Gael prominently which was an organisation that supported the activities of the IRA in Northern Ireland via fundraising and smuggling IRA members into the USA to safe houses and the provision of new identities. All of these actions were aided by the close links between the Irish-American community and the PD and in particular Absalom Kearney’s famous detective (and adoptive) father. Within “The County” there is a code resembling omertà so that despite their strong ethnic representation in the police department many issues are resolved without recourse to official channels but at the same time if you are not hooked into this network it can make your life and your job as an investigator that much harder and so it proves to be for Det. Kearney as she struggles to penetrate the wall of silence even as she pursues the murderer currently stalking the residents of “The County”. To these residents though she will always be an outsider regardless of her father.
But a little half-Irish girl from outside the neighbourhood could never have been at home here, even if she’d been adopted and raised by a legendary Irish cop, the great and terrible John Kearney.
Opening with the first victim, Jimmy Ryan, tied to a chair at knifepoint we soon realise that this isn’t a random killing – it is vengeance but even before the body is found his family seem strangely reluctant to cooperate fully with the police. It is not until more bodies turn up that they can connect the killer’s signature but even those people who are willing to talk to her clam up pretty quickly either intimidated or incentivised to keep quiet and solve things another way but between the mementos at the crime scenes and old arrest records the evidence points to a killer motivated by something dating back years but even her own father won’t share what he knows. Tempted into an isolated meeting by a promise of information she is lucky to escape alive but even worse circumstances conspire to place her under suspicion but there are more familial connections to the case than even she could possibly suspect. If you have done a deal with the devil don’t be surprised if it comes back to bite you.
So however good Black Irish is book #2 Hangman is even better though. The Hangman of the title is Marcus Flynn a serial killer that escapes custody while being transported but the manner of the escape raises many questions as to the role of the correction officers escorting him and also potential accomplices. A strong opening which leaves you with the sensation that there is much more to this than meets the eye especially as Hangman sustained a brain injury from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head when he was captured some years previously and the escape leaves one prison officer dead at a location overlooking the same motel where he was caught. Rather than being tasked with being part of the search, Det. Kearney is assigned the job of reviewing the prior cases in case Hangman avoids the dragnet and makes it back to his old hunting ground in Buffalo….And make it back he does and then there are new victims matching his modus operandi. There is plenty of avenues for Kearney to explore between those connected to the original investigations and those involved with Flynn since he was incarcerated – both staff and prisoners but to solve this case she’ll have to step on some toes and compromise her ideals. The tension associated with trying to find Flynn before he kills again keeps you on edge throughout and the resolution is not as straightforward at all.
While the two books form a series they can be read independently of each other without any adverse impact. I preferred Hangman (10/10) but rated both of them highly (8/10 for Black Irish).