Irish Fiction Week Review: When Sorrows Come by Matt McGuire

Tuesday, 17 March 2015
Title: When Sorrows Come (DS, O'Neill, #2)
Author: Matt McGuire
Publisher: C & R Crime
Publication Date: 1st May 2014
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781780338323
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 3.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
Belfast, 2am, Tomb Street. A young man lies dead in an alley. Cracked ribs, broken jaw, fractured skull. With the Celtic Tiger purring and the Troubles in their death throes, Detective Sergeant John O'Neill is called to investigate. Meanwhile O'Neill's partner, DI Jack Ward, a veteran troubles detective, is receiving death threats from an unknown source...


Matt McGuire's Dark Dawn was one of the more enjoyable crime novels that I read in 2014, a very promising start to a series and just the book I pictured in my head when I started looking for crime fiction set in Belfast. I wanted more of the same from When Sorrows Come but didn't expect the book to be virtually the same for the most part. I have to say that despite finding When Sorrows Come a little bit formulaic and repetitive throughout, both the characterisation and the setting are both very strong that it didn't really bother me.

I like the duo of O'Neill and Ward. Ward is nearing the end of his career, the battle scars evident whereas O'Neill, despite one or two similarities to his superior, is just starting his career and already facing all those cliched problems that crime fiction detectives inevitably face which include the marriage breakdown and having to continually cancel on his daughter and the returning home to the Chinese takeaway and the six pack. I do really enjoy reading about both characters though, and they are written well enough that they stand out from other detectives in the genre making this well worth the read.

When the body of a young man is found lying dead in an alleyway, it is some one hundred or so pages before the investigation even moves beyond the parents identifying the body. There was quite a slow pace to the story for the most part, and so for me one of the best things about the book was the story of Marty Toner running in the background, a drug runner working for one of Belfast's notorious criminals, Marty is plotting his revenge and I was wondering just when or if these two threads in the story would collide. Ward is also receiving notes threatening his life, with a colourful history not just in the police, there's a number of places these notes could be coming from and I had a genuine interest in wanting to find out who was responsible. Towards the end of the book it really picks up with developments I didn't see coming leaving me speechless. All in all, brilliant.

McGuire's portrayal of Belfast is not the one that the tourist board want you to see, the characters that we meet along the way have a very negative and bitter view of the 'new' Belfast. The new wave of people arriving to live and work in the city, bringing their money with them whereas the dark history of Belfast remains ever present in the eyes of those witnessing this revival. Is it a realistic portrayal? I'm not sure but the negativity did start to wear a bit thin after a while. Overall though the setting is very strong, quite atmospheric in places, and easy to picture in my mind. That trip to Belfast I was planning when I first started looking for crime fiction set in the city is still on the cards! I definitely recommend this series to crime fiction fans and hope for more from McGuire in the future.

3.5/5

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