Anne Cunningham of First Chapter book reviews selects her next read.

This week: Malachi O’Doherty’s on finding solutions in Northern Ireland

This week there’s a debut novel set in Brooklyn that already sold TV rights to HBO prior to publication – every writer’s dream. There’s also the newest offering from the Queen of Crime, Lynda La Plante. There’s a comedy of manners about love in all its guises, and the seasoned journalist, broadcaster and writer Malachi O’Doherty’s new book is about finding solutions in Northern Ireland.

Pineapple Street, Jenny Jackson, Hutchinson Heinemann, €20.99

Pineapple Street in Brooklyn, New York, is where the Stockton family home is situated. This super-wealthy tribe consists of the airhead mother Tilda and her husband Chip, who’s the captain of the empire, son Cord and daughters Georgiana and Darley. (Somehow even the names tell you almost all you need to know.) Georgiana is still single, the other two are married, one to a second-generation black man and the other to the daughter of a blue-collar worker. People like the Stocktons are the ‘one percent’, the tiny section of the population whose wealth is virtually unlimited, and this novel takes the reader into their world.

Cord’s wife Sasha had to sign a pre-nup to marry Cord, but she’s still known as The Gold-Digger. And much of the focus in the novel comes from Sasha’s observations on the lives and dynamics of her in-laws. What’s it like to be untouched – ever – by money worries? And how does money behave itself when tragedy strike? It’s been hailed as a modern day Jane Austen novel and while I wouldn’t go that far, it really has its moments.

Pure Evil, Lynda la Plante, Zaffre, €15.99

This is the fourth DS Jack Warr novel, already proving popular with La Plante’s gazillions of fans. Here, DS Warr is preparing for the trial of Rodney Middleton after a vicious knife attack. Jack’s boss and mentor DCI Ridley warns him that they have only scratched the surface with Middleton and believes he is behind a multitude of other, far worse, crimes. Then DCI Ridley disappears. Jack learns that his boss is under house arrest, but he can’t find out why. And when his boss gets word to Jack that he needs his help, Jack is bewildered.

Warr has to make hard decisions about helping his old boss clear his name from a career-ending accusation, meanwhile uncovering the whole truth about Rodney Middleton. Part of La Plante’s charm is her engagement with her principal players. She presents them as flawed human beings and sometimes their humanity works against them, as it does here. Only a month published, this novel’s already a runaway success.

Romantic Comedy, Curtis Sittenfeld, Doubleday, €14.99

Sally Miltz is an American comedy sketch writer for a popular TV show called The Night Owls (think Saturday Night Live, which used to be funny a long time ago). Noah Brewster, an ageing pop icon, is doing an episode and he asks Sally if she could help him tweak a script he’s written for the show. She does. It’s her job. And in the doing she finds herself falling for Brewster. But ordinary-looking Sally doesn’t feel she’s in his league. He’s known for dating models. And one of the many points Sittenfeld hammers home in this book is how pasty-faced blokes who are complete non-starters in the looks department manage to bag very pretty women while the reverse never, ever happens. Ever seen an ugly woman with a very handsome man? See?

There are other themes with feminist overtones that Sally likes to tackle in her sketches, but the one she can’t seem to see – or dissect – is how easily she can wreck her own relationships through her lack of self-confidence. She wrecks any chance of a romance with Brewster before they’re even off the blocks. But two years later, lockdown happens and Brewster sends Sally an exploratory email. Can a plain Jane, very clever but in some ways very average woman really find herself in a serious relationship with a famous figure? And how might that play out? And how funny can you be about all of this? Very. This is a very funny book, full of excellent one-liners and acerbic observations and is being extravagantly toasted by readers on both sides of the pond.

How to Fix Northern Ireland, Malachi O’Doherty, Atlantic, €16.99

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Malachi O’Doherty takes a dive into the depths of sectarianism in a place where the peace, though it has held, still feels fragile and attitudes would seem to have changed little. Of the agreement itself, he writes: "Its creative diplomacy relied on an analysis of the problem which didn’t take account of naive religious prejudice and the thrill of taking power on the street." And in that single sentence he pinpoints the problem. The Good Friday Agreement was a political solution to what was seen as a political problem. But the problem, argues O’Doherty, is not so much political as religious, and the entrenched Protestant and Catholic viewpoints are no closer now than they were 25 years ago.

It’s a sobering argument, especially when we remember recent flare-ups and the resulting casualties. All in the name of… well… what, exactly? And this book further argues that until the day comes where one’s whole life in Northern Ireland is not mapped out by which side of the cultural/ sectarian/ religious divide one is born into, nothing will be fixed. The final chapter is titled ‘The Fix’ and I’m not delving into it here, but it has a ring of hope about it, rather than the familiar death-knell of hopelessness. But fixing Northern Ireland requires a dramatic sea change of thinking that – when one looks at the current players in Stormont, never mind how the very streets themselves are still segregated – still looks a long way away.


West Wicklow Chamber Music Festival 2023 launches with a stellar line-up of artists and a programme that promises to take audiences on an exciting musical voyage from Bach to Bowie and beyond. Dates are May 17 to 21 and tickets are selling fast. See for details.

The Dublin Dance Festival takes place from May 16 to 28. It’s showcasing the best Irish and international dance performances in venues across Dublin to a growing and appreciative audience celebrating the transformative power of dance. See for details.