The Dead Ground, by Claire McGowan, is the second book in a series of crime thrillers featuring a forensic psychologist named Paula Maguire. I have not read the first in this series and was unaware that police forces in Britain, let alone Ulster, employed forensic psychologists. Having been born and raised in Northern Ireland where the book is set, I was interested to see how the author, also a native of the province, would deal with the ingrained beliefs and prejudices of the indigenous population, some of whom may be unwilling to accept the usefulness of such a crime fighter.
The plot centres around a series of abductions and murders. Someone in the small, rural community is taking very young babies, murdering those associated with them, even cutting them unborn from their mother’s wombs. It is a blood soaked, grisly tale with few clues as to who the perpetrators may be. There are undercurrents of religion, sectarianism and fanaticism, but at its heart this is a tale of motherhood and loss.
Alongside the main plot runs the unfolding story of Paula Maguire, whose personal life is a mess. Throughout the book she seems to be on the verge of collapse, a woman badly in need of a substantial meal and a good night’s sleep. I was unclear why a forensic psychologist would be so key as to require waking early every morning by colleagues needing her to attend to some critical matter, especially as she seemed to be something of a novelty within the police force. Ireland has indeed changed if its upholders of law and order now value the input of psychologists so highly.
Putting this view aside, because to enjoy a book it is often necessary to just go with the flow, this is a well written crime novel. The plot is complex but credible, the many twists and turns prevent it becoming too predictable. The ties of family are well portrayed, with some relishing the closeness and others desiring an escape from the stifling expectations of familial bonds. I recognised this Ireland and liked that it was portrayed without being overly judgemental.
The crimes depicted are gruesome and the desperation of the police to stop those involved before more blood is shed palpable. The coldness of the winter weather, remoteness of the locations, fear within the local population as the number of crimes escalates, are all vividly described. At every stage I wanted to know what would happen next and, despite the clues, could not guess exactly how all the loose ends were to be tied.
If you enjoy reading crime thrillers then give yourself a treat and get to know this author’s work. In such a popular genre it is a challenge to find such a fresh voice.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.