This novel is an exercise is what could have been. It is a great story with an incredibly engaging protagonist. Unfortunately, questionable story formatting and unnecessary side stories lead to confusion and frustration in the first half of the book. This had the potential to be a 5 star read but was ultimately weighed down by these issues.
Patricia “Paddy” Meehan is a 20/21 year old “copyboy” at her local Glasgow newspaper. She comes from a conservative Catholic family, has a fiancée, career aspirations, image issues and a healthy temper. These elements of her life conflict on a regular basis. She is not content to work a low level position at the paper and fancies a future as a journalist. The city is buzzing after a three year boy is brutally murdered and two preteen boys are arrested for the crime. When Paddy learns of the identity of the boys, he life is thrown into disarray as one of the children is related to her fiancée. This leads her to question their guilt and follow the leads down some dangerous paths. As the mystery unfolds, she learns about family, herself and what it means to be an adult.
Paddy Meehan is so delicately crafted that she would not be out of place in a Tana French novel. Her character and her flaws are enjoyable, interesting and compelling. Even the secondary characters are drawn with care and developed beyond the average crime novel. It is the characters that make the novel. I was drawn into Paddy’s life and despite the issues with the story formatting, I was reading to see what choices Paddy would make and how her issues would resolve. In terms of characterization alone, Paddy is one of the best characters I have read in many years.
The Story is not Bad Either
Set against the background of these wonderful characters is a main plot that is quite engaging. The investigation is at times a series of blunders as an inexperienced character feels her way through clues, suppositions and gut feelings. This is entertaining as it is at the same time a coming of age story for Paddy. The story is set in 1981 and does an excellent job of conveying the sensibilities of a conservative family at this time and the prejudices and assumptions of Paddy’s society.
You Need a Map
The author clearly makes an attempt to make multiple parallels to another person with same name as our protagonist. Paddy Meehan was also the name of the name of a famous low level crook who was framed for a crime that he did not commit. In order to tell us this parallel story, the author uses a confusing mesh of chapter and “parts” to tell us of Paddy’s conviction as well as his backstory. In my opinion, this element of the story was handled very poorly and I may be the first time in my life I was longing for the author to just give us an info dump instead of another storyline. While I understand the parallels the author was making, I am still fuzzy on what exactly the elder Paddy was meant to have done and the reasons for his setup. These element were finally abandoned 3/4 of the way into the book and it did not look back after that. This is the major reason the story lost 1 1/2 stars from me.
Can this Book Stand Alone
Yes. This is the first in the series.
Don’t let my star rating scare you away from what is really a very good book. I will most certainly read the second in the series as the author’s skill in character creation and development is evident. It is rather unfortunate that story is weighted down by some poor story formatting and by some poor editing choices. Maybe my complaints won’t be a concern for you. Regardless, I recommend this for fans of Tana French and readers that prefer their mysteries to be character driven.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 3
Paddy deals head on with staunch and conservative approach to sex. There are some clumsy attempts at sexual behavior. There is a moderately graphic but short sex scene. There is discussion of a sexual assault and a character that threatens sexual assault in a graphic manner.
Language – 3.5
There is moderate use of mild obscenities and moderate use of the f-word. Overall, the usage is little higher than average. There are also of variety of insults that are Scottish slang.
Violence – 2.5
There is a murder of a child at the beginning of the book but it is not graphic. A couple of characters are attacked but it is not graphic. There is another murder and it is moderately graphic and seen from the victims perspective. We are told of a sexual assault but it is not described in detail.