First it was the Swedes with Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. Lately I’ve gotten into a couple of Irish mystery writers–Tana French and Benjamin Black (pseudonym for Irish novelist John Banville, who has chosen to write his dark and nasty stuff under a different name).

French’s debut novel, In the Woods (2007), is the dark study of a young police detective who experienced the disappearance of two friends in a wood near his home when he was 12 years old. He escaped whatever happened and has no memory of it. And though he was not physically harmed, his friends were never found and are presumed dead.

Twenty years later: a young girl is murdered in the same woods. The  detective, who has since changed his name, gets himself assigned to the case. And he begins to unravel.

In this booze-soaked psychological thriller the reader is never certain what’s what. Shadows shift. Stories change. The  detective has flashbacks of that long-ago day in the woods…but we’re not completely sure if we’re privy to his memories or merely drunken dreams. He’s held together by two of his peers. Are they shadows of the lost friends? Was he jealous then or now? Will we ever learn what really happened?

It’s a beautifully written novel, and since it was published French has penned three more. The material is disturbing on multiple levels, and  yet her books are difficult to put down.

Benjamin Black‘s work is even darker…and more booze-soaked. (There definitely is something to the Irish alcohol thing.) His character Quirke first showed up in the highly acclaimed Christine Falls (2006). Pathologically incapable of keeping his nose out of places where it does not belong, he unearthed some horrible truths. People died.

The Silver Swan picks up two years after the Christine Falls case. While we don’t want to keep reading, we do. And like Quirke, when we peel a layer off the onion we only find another layer of evil lurking beneath it.

John Banville seems like a nice enough fellow, but when he channels Benjamin Black odd things happen. He says he becomes a different person. Indeed. It is a different world Benjamin Black/Banville and Tana French live in. Mystery and suspense aficionados will not want to miss these two authors’ works. One can only wonder what’s in the water over there.

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One Response Comment

  • Lynn Greenwood  February 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Having also just read “In the Woods” I so appreciate your comments. Your insight about the detective’s peers being shadows of his lost fiends was something I hadn’t considered. Hmmmm…

    Tana French kept me enthralled with her story and I’m planning to read more of her books. Thanks!