PC Donal Lynch has found his career stalling. Side lined with a temporary appointment as a DC, he is now working with the cold case unit, a dumping ground for the officers in reaching the ends of their career, by fair means or foul. Hidden away down in ‘the Cemetery’, Donal had been working back through cold cases involving prostitutes, people whose murders had gone barely investigated as there was no one to care about them.
Donal quickly becomes convinced that some of these murders are just the start, that the Toms were the first victims in a fledgling serial killer career, and he is set the task of comparing the murders to other, unsolved cases, looking for obvious links. When a young woman is found murdered in a dodgy area of London, known for its crack addicted Tom’s, Donal is sent to check out the murderer’s MO to see if it matches anything he has seen before.
What Donal finds is a similarity to more than just a local unsolved murder. The victim, Liz Little, was an aspiring actress, not a Tom, and her death is eerily similar to that of Elizabeth Short, ‘The Black Dahlia’. Not only that but two other clues have been left behind, clues which link back to a previous murder victim with no apparent ties to Liz Little. With Donal’s journalist brother, Fintan on his back for information, the two follow up on some of Fintan’s clues, leading them to Liz’s place of work, The Florentine Gardens, a nightclub owned by a notorious London gangland boss, Jimmy Reilly.
When Liz appears to Donal in one of his dreams, he knows that there must be a connection to the club, but her clues are so vague he has a hard time interpreting them. When he finds an anonymous tip off in one of the cold case files which links to Liz’s murder, Donal has to wonder if the club has all just been a distraction, the suspect having no known ties to Reilly or the Florentine. Donal follows up on the lead, his investigations taking him back to Ireland where he makes a startling discovery about his mother. With his IRA sympathising father turning up on their doorstep in London, Donal has to wonder if there is a link between his father’s sudden appearance and the identification of the potential killer, something hidden in a memory from his childhood.
‘Dance with the Dead’ is a really interesting read. Blending some dark humour with more slapstick moments, Donal’s first moments at the Liz Little crime scene being a classic example, it also touches on darker themes of murder and abuse. The contradictions in the evidence is enough to make you wonder just how there can be two so very clearly viable suspects who appear to know nothing of each other and yet where the murders are inextricably linked. It is this aspect on which Nally has managed a very clever twist, one I honestly hadn’t expected.
Set in early 1990’s London, I think that it is probably the setting and the characters that really make this story work. The Anglo-Irish hostilities play a big part in the story, the chance of a final truce between the IRA and the British Government bringing a whole new element of doubt to the investigation. What is more important? Finding a killer or ensuring peace between the warring factions? Also, being set before the mass distribution of mobile technology, it brings good old fashioned detection to the fore, taking us back to an era that is all telephone boxes and fax machines. Nally captures all of this extremely well, and having lived in London around the time the book is set, it certainly felt familiar.
Donal himself is a great character. His unusual character trait aside, he is funny, almost naïve in his approach to policing, his hapless manner making the discoveries more by accident than by design. Generally failing in nearly all aspects of this life, both love and career, he is a character you can’t help but like, seemingly wet behind the ears but with his heart in the right place. The story is told in the first person, meaning the readers view of events is Donal’s view, perhaps helping with the engagement with the character. He has a dependency on his old friend, Shiraz, is plagued by visions of the dead, has a tortured relationship with his father, which adds another layer of conflict to the story, and a frustrating relationship with his brother. Fintan is another brilliant character, his journalistic instincts and confidence making him the polar opposite to his brother.
I really enjoyed the ‘otherworldly’ aspect of the novel, the thought that Donal was being visited by the ghosts of the victims. It may be nothing more than good old fashioned intuition, but it gives Donal an edge, a chance to make connections other officers don’t seem to see. I can’t wait to see where this leads next.
My thanks to publishers Harper Collins UK, Avon and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for my review.
‘Dance with the Dead’ is available to buy now from the links below: