Fresh Blood

Name: Anthony Quinn

Title of Book: Disappeared

' extremely strong debut and heralds a new talent...'

On a cold winters evening, special agent David Hughes disappears. His sister contacts the local police saying he has been kidnapped. By whom she cannot say, but her brother has early stage Alzheimer’s and should not be out on such a cold bleak night.

Enter Inspector Celsius Daly who has drawn the short straw to drive out to Hughes’ remote farm to find the missing man, but there is something about the strange behaviour of Hughes’ sister that already starts alarm bells ringing.

Add to the mix the body of an ex-intelligence officer found on a remote island who has obviously been executed by others for past misdemeanours. And why was his obituary in the local newspaper before he had been killed?

Everything points back to the Troubles and the unjust killing of a man who may or may not have been an informer – and what part did both these men play in this drama of betrayal? Daly will find himself going back in time to bring together all the strands and hopefully stop more killings in the present.

Quinn’s debut is a dark affair bringing together the good and the bad of a wonderful place such as Ireland. There is an exacting feel to Quinn’s novel, as though his writing has been pared right down to the bone. And yet, there is also a depth to his story, as though every word has been weighed before being kept or discarded. ‘Disappeared’ is a highly emotional tale, showing that even though the Troubles have been brought to a peaceful solution, for many there are still many unanswered questions about missing loved ones. Quinn admirably shows the depth of the wounds that many carry around in their everyday lives.

Celsius Daly is a sufficiently defunct policeman who has a few demons on his back to make him more human and interesting but without detracting from the main plot. As the author has stated, we will learn more about Daly and his life throughout the next few novels.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the Irish landscape, although others may think that Quinn lingers too much on it to the detriment of pace. I can understand that, but I felt when I finished the novel that Quinn had managed to balance the two sublimely.

‘Disappeared’ is an extremely strong debut and heralds a new talent who I feel could reach dizzying heights over time. His creation, Celsius Daly is an intriguing man and one whose company I look forward to keeping in future. The subject matter of this debut will not sit well with some, but then I don’t feel it is the job of any writer to have an easy ride, or to give his readers one for that matter. This can sometimes be an unsettling book but is all the more gripping for it. ‘Disappeared’ will put you through the emotional wringer and because of that makes it a book that will stay with you long after the final page.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) Your debut novel, ‘Disappeared’ introduces Celsius Daly. Can you tell us a bit about the character, how he came in to being and how he inherited such an unusual Christian name?
I wanted to create a detective who was an outsider afflicted with the dangerous habit of empathising too deeply with other outsiders, other fugitives. Daly’s fatal flaw and its origins are explored in greater depth in the third in the series ‘The Family Bones’, to which I am currently penning the final touches. As a Catholic detective, Daly has the wrong religion. He has to pit himself against criminals as well as the institutional bias of a predominantly Unionist police force. This adds to the perplexities that beset him, the sense that in professional terms he is all at sea, just as he is in his personal life. In ‘Disappeared’, his colleagues suspect him of being a traitor, of harbouring misplaced loyalties to the wife of a suspected IRA man. Whilst making it harder for him to succeed as an investigator, his outsider status also leaves him more empathic and perceptive, especially when dealing with outsiders. His unusual name is explained in a nice little exchange with a suspect in ‘Disappeared’, which I don’t want to spoil for readers.
2) Celsius Daly’s debut surrounds ‘The Troubles’ that still haunt Ireland today. What is it about this time that is so fascinating to writers, historians and people in general?
I think the Troubles has shaped the mind-sets of many writers and influenced them in powerful, sometimes subconscious ways. I’m sure I wasn’t the only child during the Troubles who went to sleep dreaming of a good hero who would deliver justice and fairness to a society riven with murderous acts, where the dividing line between lawbreakers and lawmakers was often blurred. In many ways, I’ve been replaying this struggle between good and evil in my mind since my earliest days; it was the overarching narrative of my childhood, and one that still fascinates me today. Fortunately, we now have a largely peaceful society in Northern Ireland, but there are still tensions roiling the calm. I think fiction is a great way to explore these tensions and interrogate the past.
3) One of the main characters suffers from Alzheimer’s. Why did you give him this condition and did you have to be careful not to fall in to any stereotypical pitfalls?
I tried to avoid stereotyping Hughes as a dementia sufferer. Empowering him with deadly secrets made his character more compelling, and was a safeguard against sentimentalising his illness. I wanted to use Alzheimer’s as a symbol for the changes that Northern Ireland has to go through to become a peaceful, harmonious society - a process that involves a delicate balance between remembering and forgetting, especially when it comes to the secrets, cover-ups and betrayals that tainted many lives during the Troubles. Obviously, everything cannot be forgotten and pushed under the carpet - that only leads to chaos and the free-floating anxieties evinced by Hughes’ character as he descends into dementia. Likewise, not everything should be remembered and stirred up in the public domain in perpetuity as that leads to another form of chaos, the type left in the wake of Dermot Jordan, the answers-seeking son of a murdered IRA man. The tense interplay between these two characters forms the emotional heart of the book, and is symbolic of the struggle within the consciousness of the country as a whole.
4) You describe Ireland very much as a harsh, unforgiving land during the winter months. The landscape and the Lough Neagh feature highly in your book. Do you feel the landscape is as important to a book as plot?
Being Irish, landscape for me is much more than geography. It’s a part of my collective identity. It’s also a window into the soul of a country and its troubled history. From the outset, I wanted to create a landscape in ‘Disappeared’ that would communicate the emotional action of the plot and the looming sense of threat. I also wanted it to be recognisably Irish. I take a guilty pleasure in drawing the reader’s attention to the strangeness of the Tyrone landscape, making them shudder at a gruesome-looking blackthorn tree, a rotting cottage, or a treacherous bog. I wanted readers to feel the dark gravity of the border countryside, its interlocking parishes of grief and murder, its mesh of twisting roads, the sense that out there amid the blackthorn thickets and swirling mists, loose bits of the past are still wriggling their way through the shadows.
5) There is a scattering of information about Daly’s broken marriage. Will we be finding out more about this in future novels?
‘Border Angels’, the sequel to ‘Disappeared’, which is published in January, focuses on Daly’s troubled relationships with women, including his ex-wife, while the third, ‘The Family Bones’, narrows in on his relationship with his mother, and the central tragedy of his life, her death as a result of crossfire at a police checkpoint. In both cases, Daly’s incorrigible loneliness leads him to ignore every rule in the book as he tracks down his female suspects.
6) This is your debut novel. Did you have to write around your ‘day job’? What sort of writing regime do you try to stick to?
I’ve always written around my day job and my hectic family life - we have four young children. I find that the busier you are the more you get done. Writer’s block is a luxury a harried father can’t afford. So I rise at 6am and work for a few hours, and resume last thing at night for a couple more. There are sacrifices, usually in the form of entertainment and a social life. However, spending several hours alone with a blank page every single day changes you, for the better, I think. You become more reflective and meditative.
7) As a new published writer what one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out on their own writing journey?
My best tip for writers is to read as much as possible. Read widely and deeply. Read everything you come across, even the pieces of paper in the street. And stay away from social media. Dickens and Shakespeare were so prolific because they didn’t have friends and followers demanding their attention every time they peered into their ink-wells.
8) You have literally burst on the scene armed with three books (two with Celsius Daly and one featuring the poet Keats as a detective) being released in rapid succession. Are you a fast writer or is it a bit like buses, they all arrived at the same time?
‘Disappeared’, my debut, was published in August, ‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ is due out at the end of October, ‘Border Angels’ in January, while ‘Blind Arrows’ is scheduled for next summer. At the minute, I’m putting the finishing touches to ‘The Family Bones’. But no, I am not Ireland’s answer to George Simenon. The five books have been written over six years or so. Whenever I finished one book I moved swiftly to the next; each one was an all-consuming obsession, filling my waking thoughts and quite a few of my dreams. In the end, however, they were the very opposite of children. Once they were created, I disowned them completely and moved on without looking back. It’s the only way to work as a writer otherwise you would never create that elusive perfect novel.
9) What do you look for when you pick up a book to read?
For me good crime fiction should give an insight into a particular time or society in a way that history books can’t. Most of all, no matter how good the plotting or the writing, there has to be a cry for compassion or understanding behind all the genre tricks and conventions. If that’s not there then the book feels hollow and I abandon it.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Has there ever been a better writer of noir than Greene? I love the shading of his characters, and the way they seem capable of good and evil at the same time, so I’m going to choose ‘Brighton Rock’ and ‘The Third Man’.

Some of my best reading pleasure lies in Chesterton’s ‘The Innocence of Father Brown’.