The Killer in Me by Olivia Kiernan

hbg-title-9781787470033Death is no stranger to Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan, but she isn’t the only one from her small, coastal suburb to be intimately acquainted with it. Years ago, teenager Seán Hennessey shocked the tight-knit community when he was convicted of the brutal murder of his parents and attempted slaying of his sister, though he always maintained his innocence. Now, Seán is finally being released from prison—but when his newfound freedom coincides with the discovery of two bodies, the alleged connection between the cases only serves to pull Frankie further from answers even as it draws her closer to her town’s hidden darkness. With a television documentary revisiting Seán’s sentence pushing the public’s sympathies into conflict on a weekly basis, a rabid media pressuring the police like never before, and a rising body count, Frankie will need all of her resources if she is not only to catch a killer, but put to rest what really happened all those years ago.

At the beginning of this stunning sequel to 2018’s Too Close to Breathe, Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan is asked by her sister-in-law Tanya to review the case of Seán Hennessy, a man jailed for 17 years for the murder of his parents and the attempted murder of his sister when he was 15 years old. Seán has recently been released from prison and is claiming a wrongful conviction due to police errors. He is the subject of a documentary that is due to air on tv soon. At the same time, Frankie is called to investigate the double murder of Geraldine and Alan Shine, a husband and wife, in a church in Clontarf, Dublin. From there, Frankie and her team must solve the murder of the Shines as well as looking at the historical case. Frankie soon begins to question whether the two cases are linked and struggles with her own connection to Seán’s case.

Although this is the second book in the series, it can easily be read as a standalone. It’s a complex thriller, set in Clontarf, a coastal suburb of Dublin. Kiernan’s use of gritty realism, as well as local mannerisms and colloquialisms, gives the book a genuine sense of place and authenticity. Both the landscape and community are described in stunning detail but never too much to distract the reader. I also really appreciate Kiernan’s description of the rainy, gloomy setting as it is authentic as well as being the perfect location for a murder.

The Killer in Me is refreshing for a number of stylistic reasons. The book very successfully weaves the present case with the historical one, whilst all the time staying within a contemporary narrative rather than jumping between different time frames.  The chapters are also a bit longer than several other thrillers I’ve read lately. This means that scenes are drawn out a bit more and conversations are more detailed. However, the pace never lets up and it still keeps the reader fully engaged throughout. It is also refreshing that we only get Frankie’s perspective throughout the book so we really become accustomed to her narrative voice, which is quite unusual in first-person narratives today. Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the use of several first-person narratives used together so it was nice to get to know Frankie’s perspective. The book also feels very current and timely because of the documentary aspect. With our current fascination with true crime, there’s a familiar documentary quality in Seán’s accounts of what happened 17 years previous. Although this documentary aspect has appeared in a range of books lately, Kiernan’s detailed description of Seán’s account feels more authentic than others I’ve read.

The trope of the forensic profiler is a well-worn one at this stage but Kiernan also injects something fresher here. Frankie is surrounded by the usual figures: her partner Barry “Baz” Harwood and her superiors Commissioner Donna Hegarty and Assistant Commissioner Jack Clancy. What’s different here is how much Frankie isn’t defined by her gender. There’s a sense in a lot of contemporary crime fiction that female detectives are constantly trying to prove themselves within a stereotypically masculine sphere. This is the first book I’ve read in a while where the female detective is simply the strongest and most proficient detective and doesn’t have to constantly explain herself or compare herself to the men around her. In Olivia Kiernan on Strong Female Protagonists, Kiernan makes the point that she never approached Frankie as a “female detective”. And this certainly comes across in the book, demonstrating just how skilled Kiernan is at characterisation. It also shows the strong progressive nature of Kiernan’s writing.

Overall, The Killer in Me is a breath of fresh air in the police procedural subgenre and I really appreciate the Irish setting after reading so many crime genre novels set in America and England lately. Kiernan’s skilful writing demonstrates that she is fast becoming a leading voice within the genre.

About the author

7128026Olivia Kiernan is an Irish writer living in the UK. She was born and raised in County Meath near the famed heritage town of Kells and holds an MA in creative writing awarded by the University of Sussex. She is also the author of Too Close to Breathe.

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