Anne Cunningham of First Chapter book reviews chooses something to read.

This week: a woman who disposes of abusive men

This week there’s a revenge novel about a woman who disposes of abusive men. By killing them. There’s a bleak dystopian novel set in Dublin, although you’d barely recognise the city. There’s a family left devastated by a forest fire in Greece. There’s a morality tale about engaging in a spot of wife-swapping and there’s a satirical thriller about feminism gone horribly wrong.

Bad Men, Julie May Cohen, Zaffre, €20.99

The plot opens with protagonist Saffy accidentally murdering her stepfather at just 12 years old. There are no tears spilled, however, Saffy was constantly protecting her younger sister from him. But this taste of first blood follows Saffy into adulthood, where by day she’s ‘normal’ enough and by night she hunts down and kills bad guys who have harmed women. She’s also looking for one good man to marry and it seems she’s found him, a True Crimes writer and podcaster. But he doesn’t seem interested. Saffy will make him interested…

This novel is being hailed as a ‘feminist satire’ but it’s just a very enjoyable yarn about a woman with a skewed view on fixing things, especially men. That said, Saffy’s obsession is well depicted and she’s a memorable character.

Silent City, Sarah Davis-Goff, Tinder Press, €16.99

Although a standalone novel, this is a sequel to the author’s debut dystopian novel, Last Ones Left Alive. That’s where we first met Orpen, alone and adrift in a hostile environment where the Skrake (an undead-like species that feeds on human flesh) is ubiquitous and life has become an animalistic scramble for survival. In this novel, Orpen has reached Phoenix City, which we can recognise as the Phoenix Park, the seat of Management in this post-apocalyptic version of Dublin. Orpen has succeeded in becoming a Banshee, a kind of dystopian Ban Garda, helping to keep some semblance of law and order in a country long gone to the dogs, or to the Skrake. Her life, or half-life, trundles on until things come to a head and Orpen has to make a decision; to fall in with the status quo or to fight for justice.

Sarah Davis-Goff is one half of the tiny publishing powerhouse that is Tramp Press, publishing some of the most impressive works of fiction to emerge in recent years. I don’t believe they have ever brought a dud into the world. And this novel is no dud either. Even if fantasy and dystopia is not your first choice, the quality of the writing here, and the sheer awfulness of the atmosphere make for a terrific and terrifying read.

The Book of Fire, Christy Lefteri, Manilla Press, €15.99

We’ve seen so many forest fires and floods on the TV this summer, it’s like half the planet is either burning or drowning. So you’d think a work of fiction about the aftermath of a forest fire might be too much. And maybe it would, in hands other than Christy Lefteri’s. But the grace and elegance of her prose, not to mention her compassion, pulls you in immediately. She creates an intimacy with the reader that’s both uncanny and extremely rare.

Greece is the location for her latest novel, where a developer intends building a hotel in an old forest close to the coast. In an attempt to burn just a few acres of land for clearing, he destroys an entire, massive forest, along with the surrounding farms and olive groves, half a village, almost all the animals and dozens of human lives. Those left behind are decimated. Irini and her family have survived, though her husband and daughter are badly burnt. But it’s the emotional scars that, like the land, can never recover. And so Irini takes to writing a journal, in an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of this unspeakable disaster. Then one day she meets the culprit in the forest. And to say more would be to spoil. It’s a tense story, teeming with turmoil and full of human frailty, but this novel is a thing of exquisite beauty.

The Couples, Lauren Mackenzie, John Murray, €16.99

Men behaving badly – and women, too – is the nub of this stroll through midlife crisis as experienced by three couples, all friends, who do something really stupid. At a birthday bash for Frank, one half of one of the couples, it’s decided that the women can choose their partner for the night. Other than their actual partner. Just one night, just for fun. And besides, they’re spending the night in a remote country house, away from kids and responsibilities. The consequences will be disastrous.

As a reflection on modern marriage with all its big headaches and small disappointments, troubled kids, work or the lack of it, ageing parents, financial woes and myriad other burdens, this is a novel where it’s difficult not to see yourself and your own life lurking somewhere in the pages. Mackenzie simmers it all with poise and accuracy, and not without warning about the wages of sin.

Goddesses, Nina Millns, Simon and Schuster, €15.99

Two female stand-up comics, Ayesha and Yaz, are invited to a hen party which is actually a ‘goddess retreat’. Their weekend activities include tree-hugging, prancing around in their pelts, adopting a wheelbarrow… the usual. It is to be an ‘empowering’ retreat for the two women and their recent ‘goddess’ acquaintances. But thing don’t quite work out as Ayesha and Yaz had planned. This novel is many things, not least a social commentary on the sometimes-misguided principles afoot when unstable people engage in social activism. Neither of the central characters are white, although this band of feminist weirdos is very white, leaving the girls well outside their grid. But it’s also a thriller, with chapters leading up to this promised great weekend, and then unfurling the events at the actual event. Which is a nightmare.

It’s a clever book, a funny book, a book that examines the whole concept of activism and asks questions about who, ultimately, stands to gain from some of our ‘good causes’.


Culture Night 2023 falls on Friday 22 September and there’s lots happening in big and small communities across the country. See for details.

The Dublin Theatre Festival runs from September 25 to October 15 and there’s plenty happening to entice a person into a trip to the capital. See for details.