I’m starting to think I’m being pigeon-holed here. And I’m loving it! Although, admittedly the genre I’m slowly sinking in to is pretty gruesome. But that’s why we read murder stories, right? There’s something about the cold, calculated killer that appeals to our sense of the macabre. And who could be more cold and calculating than John Delahunt. The author, Andrew Hughes, draws the reader slowly, brilliantly in to the mind and motives of a out and out serial killer.
I found myself having to turn the next page. I couldn’t put it down. Not because of the fantastic writing style, brilliant though it is, but because I kept waiting for Delahunt’s redemption. I kept expecting to find at least one redeeming feature behind the man that murders children for money. It does come, just about, and only then near the end. But for the rest of the novel you are continually horrified by the mind of someone who thinks only of the practical, and then only to the extreme.
So what is the story? Well, John Delahunt was a Dubliner, a student, a husband and an informant in the mid-1800s. He discovers the very generous way the local authorities will treat those ready and willing to sell information about the wrong-doings of their neighbours for cash, after informing on a group of Repealers who had brutally beaten and left for dead a man who refused to vote for the removal of Ireland from the Union. On finding out that more money can be gained from the authorities for a dead man than an injured man, Delahunt proceeds on a course that spirals downwards to his eventual arrest for murder.
There are no, or at least very few, full on ‘good guys’ in this book. Delahunt definitely is not. His wife is a truly tragic character who you feel for. But I couldn’t get the image out of my head of her bringing Delahunt to the hanging of a woman and loving it, all whilst he watched interested, though perhaps slightly bored. The one character you want to watch out for though is her brother. He comes off badly at first, but he’ll grow on you.
Although the author firmly admits this work as a piece of fiction, it is rooted in absolute historical fact. Hughes, himself a historian, used his former research for his social history – Lives Less Ordinary: Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Square, 1798 – 1922 for this, his debut novel. Many of the characters Delahunt interacted with, were real, flesh and blood people, which probably goes along way to explaining just how flawed each and every one of them is. That sounds quite nihilistic, I know. But it’s this realism that makes this book simultaneously fascinating and horrific. You find yourself looking away and trying to read the book with one eye closed.
Quick sum up – this book gave me the creeps a lot of the time. I would happily read it again.