'Crime Fiction for Grown Ups' says the Crime Review… well, that’s good enough for starters!
I’m not a regular consumer of the genre, nor am I a regular Jo Spain reader (though I did see Taken Down on TV) so I’m coming to her new novel without expectations, but from the off I’m hooked!
Within the first ten pages, using a ‘then’ and ‘now’ scenario, Erin Kennedy has watched her husband, police detective Danny Ryan, jump to his death, and eighteen months later she is on trial for her husband’s murder.
Despite the Irish names, the novel is set in the USA - Newport, Long Island to be exact. 'The town is a picture-perfect diorama of a Long Island seaside port and our apartment is slap bang in the middle of it''. Living the dream, Erin and Danny have only been married a couple of years and Erin is looking forward to a long-awaited weekend away when … "a cop’s knock on the door. Quelle surprise."
Erin had moved to New York following a family tragedy in Ireland. She was working in a publishing house in Manhattan, and was on a night out with her sister when she met Danny Ryan… '"You’re kidding" I said, his face filled with amusement,’You think I can’t be from Ireland because I’m black? Relax Irish, I’m not going to cite you for hate crimes."'' Six months later, 'they got hitched’.
Now he’s dead, and as the story evolves Erin is finding it hard to cope… "I can’t bear this ", she tells us "I can’t bear the idea that not only has everything I know has been taken away from me, but that everything I thought I knew is starting to evaporate along with it."
It’s a page-turner with enough twists and turns to wreck your head, but it’s ultimately, a rewarding read. The skill of the author shouldn’t be underestimated here - her plotting, attention to detail and pace are all very impressive, especially if you look back when you’ve finished and realize the little clues she has been giving us along the way.
Jo Spain says she has been writing most of her life, whether as a journalist or as a speech writer. When she turned her hand to fiction, her first novel With Our Blessing was one of seven shortlisted in the Richard and Judy search for a bestseller competition in the UK. It was published here in 2015, and became a bestseller within a month That book introduced us to a Dublin-based investigating team led by Detective Tom Reynolds - five more followed, all bestsellers, but this is one of her ‘stand-alones’ and the first, I think, to be set abroad.
The writing is fluid, with some lovely quirks for the home reader, such as describing the notion of a bookmaker’s shop to a Yank who can only bet at a racetrack! There is also the sadness of someone living abroad when tragedy strikes, something Spain says she was conscious of even before Covid.
At one point Erin tells her lawyer: "I’ve nobody here. I mean, I’ve friends and my sister has come over, and Danny’s Mom is up from Florida, but I’ve nobody here who lives with me. I’ve no family. This is my home, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore". Many will identify with that!
Jo Spain has dedicated the book to all those, but especially the Irish diaspora, who were far from home when Covid entered our lives. She also says she wants to have a New York Times bestseller – maybe this is the one to take her there!