If Looks Could Kill by Olivia Kiernan
The third DCS Frankie Sheehan novel
An exciting new Irish crime series was launched when DCS Frankie Sheehan debuted in Too Close to Breathe in 2018. A police procedural/serial killer/psycho drama that put poor Frankie through the wringer – an emotionally wrought and totally gripping story. It had a real feel for its terrain and gave us an intriguing, enigmatic protagonist. Then there was The Killer in Me (2019), featuring a double murder in a Clontarf cemetery and a cold case that placed the original investigation and the Dublin Garda under close scrutiny. This was a more restrained and measured story. Now we have If Looks Could Kill, this for me is a watershed moment, does Frankie Sheehan have longevity? I think she does. Kiernan’s writing has developed, Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan is now a fully rounded character. When it comes to the story, less is more, enough complexity to make the case intriguing but delivered in a more settled style, while retaining the earlier passion. Frankie still has an enigmatic edge, but now readers can really identify with her, get where she’s coming from. Whereas, she was difficult to know in the first book because she placed a wall around herself to avoid being mollycoddled or pitied by colleagues after an ‘incident’ in the past from which she was recovering, (although readers had more insight than colleagues she wasn’t an open book). Frankie is still living with the effects of her first traumatic case and she’s in a contemplative mood as this novel opens. Frankie does not suffer fools gladly or put up with the macho Garda crap, and when it comes to a case she is truly fierce.
Dublin, a public garden, children playing. Rory McGrane stands outside the park gates, it’s hot, he’s troubled, distracted. A woman sees the gun in his hand, she’s frozen to the spot, he places the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger. Meanwhile, Frankie is thinking about the past, about her dead father, the warm feeling of security she felt before she knew him better; righteous, a Guard, a hero, a good man. Of course, there were two sides to the man, there always is; the real man and the image he presented to the world. He was one of the good ones at hiding the truth. Frankie has her own secrets, she’s good at hiding the physical and mental scars of the past from the people around her but not so good at letting people in.
Baz Harwood, her partner at the Bureau for Serious Crimes, gives her a lift to the Gardai annual awards, she’s presenting a prize, a much needed boost for the force after recent bad publicity. They run into a traffic jam, an incident of some sort, Frankie steps out to investigate the problem. A man in his mid-twenties is lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, pleading with another ‘eejit’ who is standing over him, knife in hand. They’ve been squabbling over drugs, Frankie manages to talk the knife wielder down. It’s just Dublin. Next morning a new case comes in from the sticks.
Debbie Nugent, fifty-five, has gone missing from her cottage outside Ballyallan, Wicklow; last seen by her daughter, Margot, three days ago. Why has this come to the Bureau? There’s enough blood to assume it might be murder. Margot lives with her mother but didn’t spot anything, didn’t even query Debbie’s absence. Frankie liaises with the local cops who show willing but are not really up to the rigours of a murder case. Last seen Debbie was believed to be heading to Dublin on the bus, she moved to Wicklow from the city in 1993, she had no mobile and no one knows who she might have been going to see. Frankie launches a full investigation. Margot is the obvious suspect, living in the crime scene for three days and claiming no knowledge of anything that might have happened. The search is on for the body, but in the rural mountains that’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, there’s little hope of finding Debbie Nugent alive. As the investigation unfolds, a family past comes to light that suggests there’s more going on here than Frankie thought and the case may leads back to Dublin.
DCS Frankie Sheehan is a great character, feisty, brittle, brave, determined, and her inner voice is fascinating, one of the things that really drive the story. Kiernan has an eye for details that make If Looks Could Kill feel authentic and gives it a solid grounding. The prose is tight, pared down, and clean. The case far more complex than it first appears which is very satisfying. Irish crime fiction is in plentiful supply, make room for Frankie Sheehan on your shelves.

Riverrun Books, hardback, 23/7/20, ISBN 9781529401059

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