The Irish Times, 15 November 2008
THE WORLD according to Ikea might look something like Dún an Airgid. In Éilís Ní Dhuibhne's new novel, the fastidiously arranged interiors of the houses and apartments in the model town are the inward signs of outward prosperity. The development is an Ireland that was dreamed of in a vision of serenely upward mobility. But the utopian promise, like the larger narrative of the Tiger years, is gradually undone by a past that cannot be bulldozed into oblivion and by a present which is blighted by the familiar demons of envy, dispossession and greed. Dún an Airgid, the planned paradise, takes on the colours of David Lynch's suburban hell. The carefully tended lawns barely contain the human horror that lies close to the surface of this domesticated nature.
Máirtín Ó Flaithearta, a Garda detective who is posted to Dún an Airgid, is not wholly persuaded by his partner, Saoirse Ní Ghallchóir's, enthusiasm for the new town. What he fears, however, as with most utopias, is that he will be simply bored silly. In this respect, their new home proves both of them wrong. As the town's librarian goes missing, and this is followed by the murder of two other women and the attempted murder of two more, Saoirse's vision sours and Máirtín suddenly finds himself very busy. As Máirtín gets more and more involved in the case, aided in his work by Saoirse, he reveals the less appealing side to the gilded cage of the Tiger, the contempt for what was there before, the deceit, the sharp class differences which map out the social geography of the Promised Land. Ní Dhuibhne always prefers to show rather than tell and in the tracking down of a serial killer she shows a great deal of what it is like to live (and die) in late modern Ireland.
There is an interesting trend in contemporary writing where established authors like John Banville or Javier Marías turn to the crime genre in mid-career. It is a genre in which women writers such as Agatha Christie and PD James have made their mark but, in addition, where in recent years women writers, from the Swedish novelist Liza Marklund to the French writer Fred Vargas, have contributed significantly to a reshaping and reinvigoration of the conventions of detective fiction. A published author in both English and Irish, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne has already ventured into detective fiction with Dunmharú sa Daingean (2000) in which Saoirse makes her first appearance. The tale in Dún an Airgid is briskly told in a style that is eminently accessible to young adult or adult learners of Irish. Connoisseurs of the whodunit may feel that more needed to be said about the circumstances of the murders and that some plot lines (the sale of artworks, for example) needed more development but Ní Dhuibhne excels in the art of persuasive storytelling. As an account of what goes wrong when the Celtic Cockaigne turns dark, it is very much a tale for our times. Michael Cronin lectures in the school of applied language and intercultural studies, Dublin City University. His latest book, Translation goes to the Movies, has just been published by Routledge.