Irish Fiction Week Review: Peeler by Kevin McCarthy

Sunday 22 March 2015
Title: Peeler
Author: Kevin McCarthy
Publisher: The Mercier Press
Publication Date: 1st May 2010
Pages: 479
ISBN: 9781856356596
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5/5
Purchase: Amazon
West Cork. November 1920. The Irish War of Independence rages. The body of a young woman is found brutally murdered on a windswept hillside; a scrapboard sign covering her mutilated body reads 'TRATOR'. Traitor.

Acting Sergeant Séan O'Keefe of the Royal Irish Constabulary, a wounded veteran of the Great War, is assigned to investigate the crime, aided by sinister detectives sent from Dublin Castle to ensure he finds the killer, just so long as the killer he finds best serves the purposes of the crown in Ireland. . . The IRA has instigated its own investigation into the young woman's death, assigning young Volunteer Liam Farrell - failed gunman and former law student- to the task of finding a killer it cannot allow to be one of its own.

Unknown to each other, the RIC Constable and the IRA Volunteer relentlessly pursue the truth behind the savage killing, their investigations taking them from the bullet-pocked lanes and thriving brothels of a war-torn Cork city to the rugged, deadly hills of West Cork, both seeking a killer, both seeking to stay alive in a time where murder's as common as rain and no one knows a thing about it, even when they do.

When searching for Irish crime fiction to read for #IrishFiction week, I stumbled across Peeler. Not only did it sound like a book right up my street, but the main character has the same full name as me, so I simply had to read it for #IrishFiction week and I am so glad that I did. Crime fiction readers will know just what a saturated genre it is, and since becoming a blogger I've found that to be the case even more. Peeler is very different to my usual crime reads, so it was both exciting and refreshing to read a book like this.

Most of the crime fiction I have read set in Ireland has focused on the more recent Troubles, yet in Peeler we go all the way back to 1920, to the Irish War of Independence, a time that has been captured all too well by McCarthy, creating a tense, atmospheric and suspenseful read from start to finish. When the body of a young woman is found brutally murdered, a sign covering her body reading 'TRATOR' (traitor), it isn't just O'Keefe investigating the murder. The IRA have sent one of their volunteers, Liam Farrell to find a killer that it cannot allow to be one of their own. O'Keefe is an interesting character, and one who isn't welcomed by most of the people that he works with or those who he encounters during the novel. There are plenty of unexpected developments over the course of the novel, many of which I failed to see coming.

It's hard to know what points to pick up on with a book like this. All too often I read reviews and wish, 'God, I wish I could write like that' and this is a book that I feel deserves a review without all those cliches of 'Oh it was fantastic, unputdownable' etc. It is clear from the outset that McCarthy has carried out meticulous research, and that, alongside a tightly-woven plot with fantastic characterisation makes for a hugely enjoyable read. Corruption in modern day crime novels is of course evident, often under the radar and less obvious, yet in Peeler corruption comes from everywhere, and O'Keefe is not afraid to speak up, seek it out, and act in the good of the people that he is trying to protect. Despite moving at a nice pace, the book did feel a little long-winded at times. Peeler is a very thought-provoking book, one that could provide many hours of discussion amongst any book club, and it's a story that people will take different things from, and react differently to based upon their opinions and/or past experiences.

O'Keefe is a character that definitely deserves a series, so I am glad to see that there's a second novel featuring him, and I will be hoping to read Irregulars soon. All in all, a remarkable debut, and probably one of the best crime novels I will read this year. As a side note it's interesting just how much I learnt whilst reading this book. I studied History at GCSE and can probably recall about 30% of what I learnt during those two years. Fiction such as Peeler, which (to me at least) feels so incredibly accurate, should perhaps be used over the traditional teaching methods to educate people about this time. It's certainly a more enjoyable way to take information in.


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