“The past … Don’t you know? It’s the new front line.” So says one cop character to another in Silence. That’s the case in the “new” Northern Ireland, anyway – post-Troubles, trying to forge a new, peaceful future, and yet still haunted by the bloody times gone by. It’s the 21st century, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) is no more, replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). In County Armagh, near the border with the Republic of Ireland, the fragile trust between formerly warring factions is hard won and tested anew each day.
Inspector Celcius Daly, Catholic and thus a minority in the PSNI, returns for his third case in the borderlands south of Lough Neagh and north of the Republic of Ireland. Once again he is sorting out the connections between the fresh bloodshed of the present and the dark deeds of the past. This time, however, things get really personal.
The case is perplexing enough to begin with: an elderly priest has bypassed the barriers at a police roadblock, driven off the road and died in a crash. Some of the police seem eager to write it off as a suicide, but Daly is skeptical. The late Father Walsh turns out to have been working on a detailed “murder map,” linking a series of deaths from the late 1970s to one another in a new way. Were all of these people random victims of the general sectarian violence that rampaged in the area in those days? Or was something else going on? When Daly sees his own mother’s name tagging a pin on Walsh’s murder map, there is no way he is turning his back on this case.
Daly’s mother died when he was nine years old, and he grew up believing that her death was collateral damage, that she had been accidentally caught in crossfire between police and paramilitaries. Now he is uncovering evidence that she (and others) may have been specifically targeted – but why? And what is the link between those long-ago deaths and the recent demise of Father Walsh?
Though at first it may seem an unusual choice to have a female narrator perform a story told from the point of view of a male character, Caroline Lennon brings considerable talent to the task. Her Northern Irish accent is convincing, and her ability to cross genders with her voice soon has listeners forgetting to think about whether a man or a woman is reading.
For listeners interested in the history of The Troubles and their legacy in today’s Northern Ireland, the Celcius Daly mysteries are an absorbing addition to the crime fiction of the region. In Silence, he gets himself entangled in a metaphorical blackthorn thicket of secrets so dense and so personally challenging that one wonders if he will be able to return for a fourth book. Let’s hope so.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.