Saturday, March 26, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: Irish "Odd Lots"

When most people think of crime fiction, they think of police officers or private investigators out risking life and limb to close the case and bring the bad guys to justice. Although both professions have their fair share of the genre, there are other crime busters from other professions-- even other species-- who seem to have the knack for stumbling over bodies... and bad guys.

To wrap up a month of celebrating Irish-themed mysteries, I'll be talking about four authors and a librarian, a photographer, an archaeologist, a pathologist, and a pig who all have a talent for crime. This is a sterling batch of "odd lots" indeed!

Ian Sansom

Author Ian Sansom has written a series of books about a most unlikely crime solver. Israel Armstrong is a Jewish vegetarian from London who's in charge of a mobile library in the village of Tumdrum, Northern Ireland. The books are filled with dry humor, slapstick and farce, but they also have a very strong sense of place and a sense of the area's troubled history.


The Mobile Library series currently has four books:

Here's what Booklist had to say about the first book in the series, The Case of the Missing Books:

In a field crowded with unlikely sleuths, Israel Armstrong--chubby, nervous, clumsy, headache prone, underachieving--stands out. Jewish and vegetarian, he stands out even more when he accepts a job in Tumdrum, Northern Ireland, where it's assumed that, if he's not Protestant, he must be Catholic. Hired to be a librarian, he arrives to find his library closed and his position retitled "Outreach Support Officer"--driver of the decrepit mobile library. Worse, the books he's supposed to fill it with have disappeared. Worse yet, his new boss will accept his resignation only if he finds the missing books first. Between Israel's inept sleuthing and the general unhelpfulness of the locals, it looks as if he'll be in Tumdrum a long, long time. The plot here is an excuse for the scenes, but what scenes! Begging to be read aloud, they unfold with a rollicking blend of dry humor, slapstick, and sheer farce that is nonetheless anchored by a strong sense of place and a sobering sense of the place's troubled history. Librarians have found themselves a new hero in Israel Armstrong, who, despite his unheroic demeanor, is a champion against bullshit and bureaucracy in the service of books.

Victor O'Reilly

Author Victor O'Reilly is an acknowledged expert in defense matters and counter-terrorism. He's held a wide variety of jobs and traveled extensively around the world.

He's written a series of best-selling books featuring Hugo Fitzduane, a former soldier and battle-scarred war photographer, who's returned home to his family's ancient castle on a wet and windswept island off the coast of Ireland.

The series, which has often been compared to Forsyth, Ludlum, Trevanian, and Follett, currently has three books:

Publishers Weekly said this about the first book in the series, Games of the Hangman:

Soldier and war photographer Hugo Fitzduane is beginning to think about settling down on his lovely, remote Irish island when he discovers a student from a nearby private school hanging from a tree near his castle. Unable to resist investigating why the son of a wealthy Swiss family committed suicide, Fitzduane uses contacts with police and security forces in Ireland and Switzerland to slowly peel away the multiple identities of a brilliant but sadistic corrupter and murderer--"the Hangman."

Erin Hart

Author Erin Hart trained to become a theater director before straying into the world of crime fiction. Born in Indiana and raised in Minnesota, after college Erin promoted the work of traditional musician friends and helped co-found a local Irish Music & Dance Association. Erin met her husband, Irish accordion player Paddy O'Brien, just after returning from a trip to Ireland.

When she heard an intriguing tale about a perfectly preserved severed head discovered in an Irish bog, she had found her inspiration for her first novel, Haunted Ground which features Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and Nora Gavin, an American pathologist. Her books not only revolve around archaeology, forensics, and history, but they also feature traditional music and folklore.

The series now numbers three books:

Booklist on Haunted Ground:

Two brothers "cutting turf" from a peat bog in the Irish countryside discover the head of a beautiful red-haired woman, decapitated and perfectly preserved in the decay-resistant bog. Who is she, and how long has her head been in the ground? Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin are summoned from Dublin to help answer those questions, but soon they are immersed in another mystery: Will the bodies of the recently disappeared wife and son of the local landowner, Hugh Osborne, also be found in the depths of Drumcleggan bog? And did Osborne put them there, as many local villagers suspect? First-novelist Hart follows her gripping set-piece opening with an utterly beguiling mix of village mystery, gothic suspense, and psychological thriller. Just as Maguire and Gavin are drawn into, first, the mystery of the red-haired girl and, second, the question of Osborne's guilt or innocence, so Hart draws us into, first, life in the small Galway village near where the girl was found and, finally, the insular world of Bracklyn House, family home of the Osbornes. Atmosphere is all in this detail-rich novel, from the traditional Irish music that not only plays in the background but also helps drive the plot to the fascinating snippets of history concerning peat bogs, archaeological methodology, and the devastating effects on the Irish people of the Cromwellian resettlement in the seventeenth century.

Joseph Caldwell

Playwright and novelist Joseph Caldwell has written a trilogy that's a bit different from the norm because a pig is a main character.

Full of sparkling dialogue, humor, parody, Irish mythology, and so much more, these three books contain unexpected payoffs.

Publishers Weekly on The Pig Did It:

Unhappy in love, New York creative writing instructor Aaron McCloud, 32, arrives in Western Ireland's County Kerry to suffer amid its natural beauty. Aaron stays with his aunt Kitty, who makes a living rewriting the classics (her version of Oliver Twist features lots of repentance), but Aaron's wallow in self-pity is interrupted by a lost pig that attaches itself to him. When the pig digs up a human skeleton buried in the backyard, Kitty identifies the remains as the missing Declan Tovey and blames the pig's mischievous owner, Lolly McKeever. But Lolly won't admit to owning the pig, let alone killing Declan, and Aaron, for his part, is attracted to Lolly and suspicious of his aunt, who had her own reasons for wanting Declan dead. The stage is set for an Irish country comedy of manners in which darts, pints, pigs and burial plots all play a part.

Are these four authors familiar to you? Are there any others you would recommend? Please don't be shy-- share with us!

I hope you've enjoyed this inaugural month of Celebrating Mysteries. Next weekend brings us to the month of April and a brand-new theme. You're all invited to stop by and help me celebrate Musical Mystery Month!


  1. No, I haven't read any of these authors but now I want to! I'm especially interested in Israel Armstrong and the Maguire/Gavin books. But who can resist a title like The Pig Did It? (not to mention the beautiful cover photo).

  2. These sounds sooooooooooooooooo good...thanks.


  3. The Pig Trilogy sounds fantastic thanks for the recommendations.

  4. These all look so good! I really like the sound of Erin Hart's series - will be adding Haunted Ground to my to-read list.

  5. Beth-- I, too, found the cover and the title of that one catchy!

    Elizabeth-- You're welcome!

    Marce-- You're welcome!

    Belle-- Glad I could help you add something to that all-important list! :)


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