MURDER IN AN IRISH VILLAGE by Carlene O’Connor Kensington, February 2016 ~ 4½ Stars
Blurb: A little slice of Heaven on the Emerald Isle…
In the small village of Kilbane, County Cork, Ireland, Naomi’s Bistro has always been a warm and welcoming spot to visit with neighbors, enjoy some brown bread and tea, and get the local gossip. Nowadays twenty-two-year-old Siobhán O’Sullivan runs the family bistro named for her mother, along with her five siblings, after the death of their parents in a car crash almost a year ago.
It’s been a rough year for the O’Sullivans, but it’s about to get rougher. One morning, as they’re opening the bistro, they discover a man seated at a table, dressed in a suit as if for his own funeral, a pair of hot pink barber scissors protruding from his chest.
With the local garda suspecting the O’Sullivans, and their business in danger of being shunned—murder tends to spoil the appetite—it’s up to feisty redheaded Siobhán to solve the crime and save her beloved brood.
Review: Twenty-two year old, Siobhan O’Sullivan manages her grieving family of five siblings and the bistro they inherited from their parents with determination and brilliance. She has enough to do keeping the “O’Sullivan Six” as they’re known in the small village of Kilbane on track when the anniversary of the tragic traffic accident that killed her mum and da approaches. She doesn’t need Niall Murphy, a known troublemaker returning to create havoc. And she really doesn’t need him demanding money from her to clear his brother’s name since he was tried and incarcerated for causing her parents’ deaths.
Niall claims to have proof that someone else caused the deadly accident. Siobhan doesn’t believe a word he says – he must be lying – his lips are moving. Then, he ends up dead in her bistro, a pair of scissors in his chest. Of course, she didn’t kill him, but she’s determined to discover who did and clear the O’Sullivan name. It doesn’t help that her oldest brother, James is a prime suspect since he and Niall argued at the pub. As Siobhan points out to the local police or garda officer, Macdara Flannery, other people fought with the victim.
In this debut novel, Ms. O’Connor describes the setting consistently and beautifully until the details pervade the story from the language to the food. Siobhan is famous for her “brown bread” not to be confused with “brown” or “wheat” bread in the U.S. Because the author didn’t explain the differences, I had to “google” the details but it looks like it would be fun to make and have with a cuppa tea since actually traveling to Kilbane is more a fantasy than a possibility.
The ensemble cast of characters delightfully enlivens the story especially when ten year old Cieran shares that they have a list of suspects back on the whiteboard in the kitchen and their neighbors promptly begin to reveal their alibis for the night in question. Siobhan suspects someone lies, but who? The suspense builds and Macdara warns her to be careful especially when the killer comes after her. Of course, she can’t back down, but readers will root for her since she’s stubborn not stupid.
Siobhan needs the truth and readers will want her to discover it too. No, that truth won’t bring back her parents, but it will provide much needed answers. Finding a killer isn’t her only concern since her landlady uses the fact that a murder victim was found in the bistro to try and cancel the lease. Hmmm, what if she’s the killer and is all an elaborate, vicious scheme to steal the O’Sullivan’s livelihood.
Readers will undoubtedly make a strong connection with these characters that are well-drawn for the most part. Occasionally, it becomes difficult to keep the siblings straight which are where more physical descriptions would help. It takes too long for us to learn what they look like and at times two of the girls sound too much alike. Yet, these are minor errors in a debut novel. Ms. O’Connor delivers a terrific story with a well-designed setting that never lets us forget where we are and hopefully she’ll return readers to the village of Kilbane for another visit very soon.