Review: Dark Dawn by Matt McGuire (5/5)

Sunday 21 September 2014
Dark Dawn is an exciting crime debut that exposes the hidden underbelly of the new Northern Ireland, a world of drug dealing, financial corruption and vigilante justice.

Belfast. January 2005.

Acting Detective Sergeant John O'Neill stands over the body of a dead teenager. The corpse was discovered on the building site of a luxury development overlooking the River Lagan. Kneecapped then killed, the body bears the hallmarks of a punishment beating. But this is the new Northern Ireland - the Celtic Tiger purrs, the Troubles are over, the paramilitaries are gone. So who is the boy? Why was he killed?

O'Neill quickly realises that no one cares who the kid is - his colleagues, the politicians, the press - making this case one of the toughest yet. And he needs to crack this one, his first job as Principle Investigator, or he risks ending up back in uniform. Disliked by the Chief Inspector and with his current rank yet to be ratified, O'Neill is in a precarious position.

With acute insight, Matt McGuire's cracking debut exposes the hidden underbelly of the new Northern Ireland, a world of drug dealing, financial corruption and vigilante justice. 

A few months ago I was planning a trip to Belfast or Dublin and rather than seek our your traditional guidebook I went in search of crime fiction set in those cities. One book in particular stood out to me and it was Dark Dawn, upon seeing the cover and reading the blurb my first thought was "this is my kind of book". I immediately downloaded to my Kindle but it's only now that I'm posting the review ahead of my review for the second book, When Sorrows Come next week! I love nothing more than discovering a new author, especially in crime fiction so I'm happy to champion Matt in the hope that fellow crime fans can discover his work as well.

The book has one of the best openings I've read in a while. It immediately drew me in and I didn't move until I'd made a 25% dent in my Kindle. The book is set in 2005 Belfast, in the midst of its makeover McGuire paints a somewhat dark and gritty Belfast albeit probably a believable one, it's the Belfast the tourist board don't want you to see and it paints a pretty grim picture at times. DS O'Neill is called when the body of a teenager is found dumped on a building site for luxurious apartments. His DI Jack Ward puts him in charge of the case but he soon faces a few problems. Firstly it appears it might be a punishment beating which the police can never solve and secondly the Chief Inspector wants O'Neill gone, either back in uniform or out of the police altogether. With a Review Board meeting just days away O'Neill has just a week to catch a killer and save his career... It becomes even more difficult when the case is abandoned by everybody but O'Neill.

Immediately I liked the character of O'Neill. Not without his faults he is facing the obligatory problems that most police face, for example a marriage breakdown. He's one of those police officer who 'police', it might not always be by the book but it gets results and puts people behind bars. With his marriage breakdown he's also the dangerous sort of officer who perhaps doesn't value his life as all he has to live for is his job. This makes for some big developments towards the end of the book. In crime fiction it's easy to like the main character when their boss, in this case the Chief Inspector is a bit of an egomaniac and I found myself wanting O'Neill to solve this case to get one over on his superiors. The game of politics often bores me in crime fiction but that wasn't the case here at all. Along the way we are introduced to a number of unsavoury characters, drug dealers, criminals, it becomes a case of trying to work out how they are connected to the murder.

Rattling along at a nice pace this could just be your average crime novel but for me some fantastic characterisation, a gripping story and a brilliantly captured Belfast setting made this one of the most exciting crime debuts I've read in a while. I might be speaking too soon and should wait till I finish book two but I'd say Matt McGuire is definitely an author who could be sitting alongside some of the best in crime very soon and is definitely one to watch, this series has huge potential and I'm excited to see where it's going to go next. For crime fans looking for a new author I'd say you can't go wrong here.

Source: Bought. 

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