Disappeared - Anthony Quinn

9th September 2014

“It was as though even the mountain had turned its back on the horrors it contained.”

The stories of the Troubles in Ireland are still very raw and relevant, and this book explores that which still haunts families and communities long after the war ended.  David Hughes, a retired Special Branch detective with the onset of Alzheimer’s, vanishes in the middle of the night from his home which he shares with his sister.  Nearby, an ex-intelligence officer named Joseph Devine is discovered tortured to death, which has all the hallmarks of an IRA kill.  Confusingly however, Devine’s obituary notice was placed in the local newspaper the day before he died.

This is the complex case facing the curiously-named Inspector Celsius Daly; a Belfast detective who must dredge through the truths and lies of the past in order to find a killer.  Along the way he also must deal with a young man Dermot who is searching for the body of his father; a father who was kidnapped and subsequently murdered during the Troubles.  It’s an incident which has understandably haunted Dermot’s family for decades; they are adamant that there was a police cover-up, and in agreeing with them, Daly finds himself at odds with some of his colleagues in the police, who might prefer that some skeletons stay firmly in their closets.

“There had been a gentle wind, and the heather and bog cotton waved serenely under a low sky.”

The novel is set against the backdrop of a gloomy but somehow at times beautiful Northern Irish countryside.  While the novel focuses on atrocities committed during the Troubles, it is softened at times by the prose describing the somewhat ugly beauty of the area; bog-land, bird sanctuaries, rotting crop fields, shadowy crumbling farmhouses and forgotten farm tracks.  This bleak and deserted setting is apparently perfect for concealing the horrors of the Troubles, as the past can be literally be buried without a trace.

I though the book was a good introduction to the intriguing character Celsius Daly, while also a good introduction for me to the Troubles and their effect to this day on people from both sides of the divide.  As an outsider, it’s hard for me to comprehend the Troubles without having lived through it.  I don’t want to pass too big an opinion on it without further research, but on the surface it’s hard to understand why people were being senselessly murdered across Ireland for decades.  This is something I will definitely read more about to gain a better understanding.

The novel is an example of what I call a “true 3-star book”; not bad enough to cease reading by any means, but not one which greatly excites you either.  It seemed to drag at times, with the progression of the plot being deliberately withheld from the reader for a number of chapters, which is great in a fast-paced book, but not in what is ultimately a slow-burn detective novel.  This wouldn’t put me off reading more books featuring Celsius Daly however, but I would hope the pace could be picked up for future instalments.

I received this book for free, as part of the Goodreads First Reads program, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:  3/5 stars