Fresh Blood

Name: Stephan Talty

Title of Book: Black Irish

'I have the distinct impression that this is one author that many readers will be adding to their ‘not to be missed’ list! '

Buffalo is a town that should have scaled the great heady heights and become THE place to live and make your fortune. But that time never came for Buffalo. Now it is a place of two divides: the Irish (aka ‘The County’) and the rest of Buffalo. When Jimmy Ryan is found mutilated in a sacred place the Irish populace closes ranks.

Absalom Kearney is one of those anomalies: neither an outsider nor an insider. She simply is. Despite being adopted and brought up by her father, John Kearney, the local police hero who took her in after her drug addicted mother died Abbie has always been recognised as Kearney’s daughter but never as ‘one of Irish community’.

Now someone is killing notable personalities within that close community and they have closed ranks and are conducting their own investigation to find the killer. But Abbie Kearney is very much like her ex-policeman father and failure to catch this maniac is not an option. As more bodies are discovered, Abbie discovers that the truth lies many decades ago when she was a baby and is directly connected with a secret club ‘Clan na Gael’ and soon Abbie finds that all that is happening is about to strike very close to home.

There is a raw edginess to ‘Black Irish’ that makes it stand out from the normal ‘serial killer thriller’. Yes, the deaths of these men are gruesome although I didn’t feel they were lingered upon. What Talty does is deliver a first-rate thriller with a three-dimensional lead detective who I sense will become even more outlined as the books progress. What Talty does with skill is show Absalom’s (or Abbie as she is called) isolation within the community she has grown up in but never really been accepted. Even her adopted father loved her with out-stretched arm. You feel she loves her father merely for being her protector than as a father figure.

Although I greatly enjoyed ‘Black Irish’ there were a few issues. I would have liked Talty to chronicle the investigation by the Irish community a little more as I felt that would have held more intrigue. The end of the novel was slightly rushed but the promise is definitely there for this author to grow and perfect his craft with each new instalment. He has the perfect muse with Absalom Kearney and I look forward to Talty defining her even more. I would also like to see Dr. Reinholdt again as I felt that he was underused.

You may be asking why with some criticisms that I still gave ‘Black Irish’ a five. Well, it is because I feel that this author and this series have great potential and this debut is the raw bones and the flesh will be added once other books are published. By the end of the book there is some resolution but there are the inevitable questions still to be answered for another day. I found ‘Black Irish’ a captivating read and I will be rushing to see what Talty throws at Kearney in his next novel. I have the distinct impression that this is one author that many readers will be adding to their ‘not to be missed’ list!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) After writing several books of non-fiction what made you decide to try your hand at writing fiction and why crime in particular?
I grew up reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger and always thought I'd write fiction. I wrote my first novel when I was 22, while working at Doubleday Books in New York. The editor I worked for read it and told me, in so many words, to bury it in the forest at midnight and never tell a living soul about it. It was bad. I didn't know anything and I didn't have a style.

I then went on to work as a freelance journalist. I did some police reporting at the Miami Herald, and talked to cops and saw the places where people had been killed. That's the best job in the world for a future crime writer. I went to Ireland, where my parents were from, and half-starved, but I did some magazine articles from there. And then, twenty-five years after I wrote my first novel, I felt I wanted to try again. My mind returned to the setting for my first one—which was my hometown of Buffalo – and I put a lot of the things I'd seen and learned in the intervening years into the book, which was ‘Black Irish’.
2) They do say ‘write what you know’. Having been born in Buffalo to Irish immigrants your novel is based in the same area and a large part of the novel is based on Irish heritage. What made you decide that this would be a good base to structure a crime novel?
Growing up, you think the whole world is like the place you come from, and that was certainly true of me. But the farther I got away from South Buffalo, the more I realized how rare and interesting a place it is. These kinds of clannish, ethnic, working-class neighbourhoods are disappearing from the U.S. and they'll never really come back.

It was a place filled with strong characters, working-class guys who were legitimately tough and not just pretending to be, undercurrents of the past that were never quite clear, slang you heard nowhere else, a place with countless Irish bars and history. I wanted to write about a place that doesn't get a lot of attention in the world, and Buffalo is that kind of place.
3) There are some very interesting historical facts about Ireland and the immigrants who crossed the Atlantic to find a new way of life although some of it isn’t always complimentary to the Irish. Did you worry about offending family members?
I did. When you're writing a crime novel, the landscape is usually grim and violent and so are a lot of the people you're creating. Most of what's in the book is based on an actual place or event, but as a writer you heighten things, make them more vivid. I hope people understand that. The book is really a product of the strong feelings I have for Buffalo, and I just have to trust that comes across.
4) As I have stated there is quite a lot of historical fact about the plot. Having worked on several non-fiction biographies did you feel you wanted to plant your novel in some semblance of truth?
I was more concerned about getting the accents, the slang, the basic feel of the place right, as opposed to making sure the plot was based in actual facts. But there was so much history around me growing up in Buffalo, much of it connected to Ireland, that I think the IRA theme just seeped in. It was inevitable.

When you're in Buffalo, it's also the absence of history you feel, the history that was supposed to happen there but didn't. At the turn of the 20th century, Buffalo was promoted as the next great world city, the next New York or Paris. It was a rich, vibrant place on the way up and it was rumoured – I mean this is what I heard growing up – that it had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world.

Obviously that future never arrived, but another one did. You see the great mansions and the monuments to historical figures all around Buffalo, but it's as if the city has fallen, and you're not sure why. Buffalo to me is still a great, tough-minded, friendly city, but you wonder about what could have been.
5) Is the Buffalo you describe in ‘Black Irish’ the Buffalo you remember growing up in?
It is and it isn't. As I said, I've heightened and emphasized things to make them come alive. But it certainly was a two-fisted neighborhood, very hard-working, blue collar, tough and sharp-witted and not very always tolerant of outsiders. I loved a lot of things about growing up there, and I hated a few others. But I'm proud of where I come from.
6) Your main protagonist is Absalom Kearney who was adopted by the local hero of the police force. However, her true parentage is sketchy about her mother and non-existent about her father. Was there a reason not to give Abbie a past when the Irish community around her is all about family and blood? Will you be allowing Abbie to learn more about her family as the novels progress?
Well, I wanted someone who could look at the neighbourhood with a sceptical eye, and Abbie certainly has that. She's split. Abbie's a part of the place and not part of it. That produces a longing in her to know all she can about the County, while at the same time she feels at the end that she'll be rejected again. I think we all feel a bit of that about the places we come from.

I do plan on bringing Abbie's past into future books. I think she needs to know where she comes from, but I want to have the perfect plot to build that revelation around.
7) Why did you choose Absalom as Kearney’s Christian name? Does it have any significance?
Abbie is a hybrid. She's from two worlds, so I wanted that reflected in her name. Kearney is a very Irish name and so Absalom was something exotic, something an Irish mother would never name her child. It's also traditionally a male name, so that adds to the oddness of Abbie's situation.

The name was familiar to me from Faulkner's novel, ‘Absalom Absalom’, and it just seemed to go with Kearney; it sounded like the name of someone who might be interesting. In the Bible, Absalom was the third son of David, a rebellious man who fled into exile. I see Abbie as a rebellious spirit and she's definitely an exile in her own hometown.
8) What is your method to your writing? Are you very strict with yourself when you are embarking on a book and during the writing process?
I tend to write quickly and then revise and revise, until I physically cannot look at the manuscript anymore. I try to write six days out of seven and feel depressed if I don't get at least a page done, but that's true of most writers, I would think.

But I can write anywhere. The idea of needing a special desk or a certain number of pencils in the jar is really just kidding yourself. The hard thing is starting. Stephen King's line about falling through a hole in the page – that's literally what it feels like. But first you have to force yourself to begin.
9) What are your plans for your next novel?
I'm working on it now, and all I can say is that Abbie is still in Buffalo and facing a killer who's even more mysterious and elusive than her long-lost brother.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Thomas Harris' ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is the best crime novel by a mile; it's just a complete pleasure to read. I love the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald and go back to them all the time – if you haven't read them, they're fantastic and you should pick one up. MacDonald was the first one to give me the idea of writing crime. And Agatha Christie's ‘And Then There Were None’. I remember reading it and thinking, there's not a single word out of place here, not one thing that could be done better. It's a master class in how to write suspense.