Anne Cunningham of First Chapter book reviews searching for her next read.

This week - from the Central African Republic to Dun Laoghaire and Dundalk

This week there’s a novel set in the volatile Central African Republic and by contrast there’s Dun Laoghaire and Dundalk as the locations for two others. There’s deepest darkest Essex for another novel and yet another story is set in our developing but theocratic Irish republic. Finally, it’s Kenmare to meet up with a famous hotelier.

The Forfeit, Florence Gillan, Poolbeg, €16.99

The year is 1992 and Bree is living in Dundalk rather than Sligo, where she is originally from. Her mother too has moved to Dundalk and along with her daughter Amy, now in college in Dublin, Bree has a solid, quiet home life. Until a voice from the past comes calling. Back in the summer of 1960, Bree had her childhood wrenched from her with the arrival of a visitor. She managed, however, to survive the trauma and get on with her life.

But now this voice from the past has resurfaced in the form of a letter addressed to her Dundalk home. Bree is not only in danger herself, but she figures her mother and daughter are too. What lengths will she go to in order to keep them all safe? This second psychological thriller from the author of the excellent Let Them Lie is another page-turner, full of latent malice and tension.

The Book Club Murders, Alan Gorevan, Amazon Kindle, €4.50

Izzy O’Brien has had enough of her psycho partner and leaves him and their city centre apartment behind, settling in an old house her aunt bequeathed to her in Dun Laoghaire. Admittedly, Dun Laoghaire is not that far away! And so the boyfriend just turns up, causes a scene and puts her car windscreen in. Yup – he’s a charmer.

The neighbours, who all knew Izzy’s aunt, are anxious to get to know Izzy and invite her to participate in their local book club. It’s the usual thing, one chosen book, a little wine, a few laughs. But these neighbours have secrets of their own and things aren’t as rosy as they first look to Izzy. Are they ever? And then the murders begin. A fast-paced thriller is this, from an extremely prolific and fast-paced writer. Tense and taut.

Weirdo, Sara Pascoe, Faber, €14.99

The protagonist in this novel really is a weirdo, and a paranoiac as well. And most of the time, Sophie’s myriad weaknesses and foibles are played for laughs, which makes for some uncomfortable reading. She’s working in a pub trying to pay off a massive credit card debt (as if) when an ex of hers walks in and orders a pint. This is an ex that Sophie never really got over and seeing him again re-ignites her obsession. We’re now off to romcom country, and this is a kind of romcom, but an odd one. And not as funny as it’s depicted, possibly because the laughs are at the expense of human fragility.

That said, there’s meat ‘n’ potatoes in this debut novel. Sophie’s traumatic childhood at the mercy of an alcoholic mother is particularly well depicted, as is her experience of being bullied at school. And she’s searching for meaning in her own way. But there’s nobody to really root for here and that, I suppose, is why it didn’t grab me. That said, it’s grabbed plenty of readers and if you’re a Pascoe fan, you’ll love it.

Age is Just a Number, Francis Brennan, Gill, €19.99

Francis Brennan turned 70 this year, although he still has the energy and verve of a toddler. But he’s had his health scares and, while hurtling towards retirement, he’s aware of the many challenges that getting older, and maybe a bit idler, can bring. So he has produced a book for those of a certain vintage to tackle the myriad issues facing retirees and others with time on their hands.

Covering everything from finance and pensions to health and hobbies, this is a practical manual, although seasoned liberally with Brennan’s trademark wit and sparkle, so it’s an enjoyable read, as well as an insight into what he considers important in life. It would make a gorgeous gift.

No Good Deed, Clár Ní Chonghaile, Kindle, €2.99

The author is an established novelist with an impeccable back catalogue, but she struggled to find a publisher for this, her fourth novel. And I’m wondering if it’s because of the location, set as it is in the fraught and bloodsoaked heat of the Central African Republic. Maybe, with Ukraine and Gaza saturating our news feeds, there’s only so much war we can take, but I assure you that you’re missing out on some real stylistic elegance if you miss this.

The story follows Elodie, an English clinical psychologist working for an NGO and attempting to alleviate the suffering of teenage ex-boy soldiers. There’s also Aristide, a 14-year-old schoolboy who witnesses his father, mother and sister being butchered at the hands of rebels. And there’s Irish doctor PJ, volunteering with a Médecins sans Frontières-type organisation, working through his days with increasing hopelessness and drinking through his nights to cope. These three lives will cross, and although this is a faithful depiction of a country struck down with hate and tribal violence, there is love here and there is redemption. And there should be more pot-banging being indulged in about this exquisitely written and deeply compassionate novel.

Thirsty Ghosts, Emer Martin, Lilliput, €18

Emer Martin made waves with her previous novel, The Cruelty Men, set in the Meath Gaeltacht area of Rathcairn, as well as Kerry and Dublin, and riven with that most unholy coupling of church and state in Ireland. She treads a similar path here, with prehistoric stories from The Hag (who is Ireland, a different Ireland to that of The Aisling), and sweeping through to the 1980s. Tribal wars, the Ulster settlers, violence from the IRA and the nuns and priests, orphans and prostitutes, medieval soothsayers, the Dublin heroin epidemic, there’s little in Irish history that doesn’t make it into this book. The heft of it follows Iggy and Maeve from the 1950s up to the 1980s and it’s a sprawling, epic powerhouse of a read.


Both Loughcrew Estate and Belvedere House are hosting magical light shows in their gardens this year, beginning soon. See and for details and tickets.

Westmeath will be awash with Christmas markets from next week, see for details.