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.

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor

This description of The Chalk Man was what first drew me to C.J Tudor’s debut novel.

‘None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body?’

C.J. Tudor gets off to a strong start — so much so,  I read the first 30 percent of The Chalk Man in a single sitting.

The idea for The Chalk Man is intriguing and slightly scary.

The story opens when a dismembered body is found in the woods. Schoolboy Eddie Adams is the main narrator. He’s an interesting kid who observes a lot of what is going on around him even if he doesn’t always understand what he sees and hears.

Inspired by something a teacher says, Eddie gets the idea of drawing chalk men as a secret code. He and his friends then begin to use the code to leave messages for each other. They use different colours so as to distinguish who drew which message.

The timeline switches between 1986 and 2016. Apart from the discovery of the dismembered body, other troubling events take pace in 1986. Then, as adults, Eddie and his friends each receive a letter containing a chalk stick figure. The letters scare them for different reasons. Each has secrets from the past and reasons to fear discovery.

The more that I read, the more I found myself wondering about the intended audience of The Chalk Man. It may appeal more to the YA market than to adult readers. I felt the characters didn’t really develop as the story progressed. I found this frustrating, particularly in the second half of the book. More frustrating, though, is that when secrets are revealed, they don’t always live up to the promise of The Chalk Man’s strong opening.

That said, this is a fast read and received some great reviews on Goodreads.

[Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley]

Mary, Mary by Julie Parsons

I first came across Julie Parsons a few years ago when I read The Guilty Heart, a thriller about a father whose son disappeared.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw a review of The Therapy House, which reminded me that I always meant to read more Parsons work so, I had a look in the local library and found her debut novel, Mary Mary.

Julie Parsons Mary MaryPublished in 1999 and set in Dublin, Mary Mary is a crime thriller.  It  begins when Margaret, a psychiatrist, calls the police because her daughter Mary is missing. The police think Margaret is overreacting until Mary’s body turns up in a canal, battered and lifeless.

As the hunt for Mary’s killer gets underway, questions arise about Margaret’s background. Who is Mary’s father? And why does Margaret not tell the police when she receives threatening phone calls?

Investigating the case is Detective Inspector Michael McLoughlin whose marriage is on the rocks and who develops an intense interest in Margaret.

Julie Parsons spins a complex tale

There are a lot of layers in Mary, Mary.  Julie Parsons spins a complex plot and writes beautifully. But I found it difficult to sustain interest in the characters, particularly in the first part of the book. And sometimes the descriptions of what the characters observe as they move around Dublin are a distraction that don’t seem to move the story forward. Part 2 is more engaging and produced unexpected twists as the story drew to a conclusion.