I am, I am, I am — Seventeen brushes with death by Maggie O’Farrell

This week, thanks to Wicklow and Waterford City and County Libraries, I got my hands on a copy of I am, I am, I am – Seventeen brushes with death by Maggie O’Farrell. Although I have read O’Farrell’s fiction in the past, this is the first of her non-fiction titles I’ve come across.

It’s a tense and thought-provoking account of seventeen near death experiences. What comes through strongly in each episode is O’Farrell’s genuine appreciation of life and its fragility.

Some of her near-death experiences, such as her childhood illnesses are outside of her control. Others, come from foolish or hasty decisions. In some situations, she is aware of the danger she faces in the moment. In others, that awareness comes later as she reflects on the experience.

Each experience is life enhancing in the sense that it strengthens appreciation of life. And, as O’Farrell puts it, often the things in life that don’t go to plan are the most formative in the long run.

Survival is thanks to a combination of luck, circumstance,  personal skills and, occasionally, the intervention of others.

Patterns repeat

However, I was also struck by the similarity in some of the situations she encounters. This made me think about how patterns repeat in life when we make the same kinds of choices that we’ve always made. The older I get, the more I notice this in myself and my friends. So much so,  I wonder sometimes if we are hard-wired not to learn in certain situations. Or, perhaps, as seems to  the case for Maggie O’Farrell, the lure of adventure or freedom outweighs our sense of risk.

Brushes with death

So, over the course of a lifetime, most of us have occasional brushes with death through ill-health, accident, carelessness or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  O’Farrell’s seventeen brushes with death, are a reminder of both of the fragility of life and the rewards of living bravely.

Other titles by Maggie O’Farrell include The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and The Hand That First Held Mine.

Perfect Death – the third title in Helen Fields DI Callanach series

If you are a fan of police procedurals, keep an eye out for the third title in Helen Fields DI Callanach series. Due out out this month (January 2018), Perfect Death follows on  Perfect Remains and Perfect Prey.

Perfect Death DI Callanach seriesCallanach is a French-Scottish fictional detective.  Along with his colleagues DCI Ava Turner and DS Lively, he investigates crime, corruption and murder in and around Edinburgh. I like the fast pace and interplay of characters in these novels. They are gritty, but there is also humour and the plots are strong.

In Perfect Death – the third title in Helen Fields DI Callanach series, a serial killer is on the loose in Edinburgh. The killer selects his victims carefully, building close relationships with them before subjecting them to death by poison. His motivation is enjoyment of the grief experienced by those closest to his victims.

A lot to like

There’s a lot to like about Perfect Death.  The pace is fast and the characters, including minor characters, are well drawn. There are nice references back to the earlier titles in the series. There is also good development of the relationships between the main characters.

As well as the main plot which features the murders, there are several subplots. The most important of these involves police corruption.  At times, this reminded me of the BBC Line of Duty series.

Another subplot concerns Callanach’s troubled relationship with his French mother. We are given more insight into why their relationship broke down. Thanks to Turner’s intervention, there are hopeful signs  it may improve in future. If this comes to pass, it will benefit Callanach’s personal life.

I enjoyed the grit and humour in the evolving relationship between Callanach and DS Lively.  There is also a nice undercurrent of romance between Callanach and Turner.

Perfect Death by Helen Fields is published by Avon Books.

[Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley.com]

The Therapy House by Julie Parsons

The Therapy House by Julie Parsons won Crime Fiction Book of the Year at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2017.

Set in Dun Laoghaire,  it’s the story of two murders, one set in the present, one dating back many years. The crimes are linked through retired Garda Inspector Michael McLoughlin who discovers the body in one case and whose father was the victim in the other.

McLoughlin will be familiar to anyone who has read Parsons previously. He first appeared in her debut novel, Mary, Mary. In The Therapy House, McLoughlin has retired and is now working as a private investigator.

The novel opens strongly with a beautiful description of Judge John Hegarty who is getting ready to go to church. But Hegarty is about to be murdered. The question is by whom? And why?

Too many characters

When McLoughlin discovers Hegarty’s body, this story line takes off but it never really becomes a page turner, partly because so many characters are introduced that it is difficult to keep track of who’s who, particularly as not all of them move the story forward.

The second killing took place many years previously when Jim McLoughlin, also a Garda, was shot during a raid. No one was held to account for the killing but McLoughlin knows who did it and he knows where the killer now lives. The question is, what will he do about it.

As both story lines develop, it emerges that there are links between the two crimes. Ultimately, though, I found The Therapy House a frustrating read. Repeatedly, just as I becoming interested, a chapter would end only for new characters to appear in the next chapter. This lack of continuity became increasingly annoying as I got further into the novel. That said, there is a lot to think about and talk about in this novel which might make The Therapy House a good choice for book clubs, particularly those with an interest in Irish crime fiction.