Dirty Little Secrets – Jo Spain – Audible Book Review by Pat Viale
Nordic Noir is fast being overtaken by the army of excellent Irish women crime writers who have come to international notice in the last twenty years. Tana French, Sinéad Crowley, Jane Casey, Liz Nugent and many others have become household names and are among the most popular “listens” in Audible’s catalogue of crime fiction. Not least among them is Jo Spain, who since the success of her first novel “With Our Blessing” (which was short-listed for the Richard and Judy search for Best seller and was the Irish Times Best Crime Book of 2015) has been one of our rising stars in the thriller genre.
Setting some her earlier novels in iconic Irish institutions – a Magdalene Laundry, a psychiatric hospital and even one in Leinster House – she explored questions that have dominated the news in Ireland in recent years. Her latest novel “Dirty Little Secrets” is different in tone and does not feature her “regular” detective, Inspector Tom Reynolds. Here we meet Inspector Frank Brazil, approaching retirement and disillusioned with humanity after what he has seen over his many years as an investigator, along with his partner Detective Emma Child. They are are called to investigate a suspicious death in an affluent gated community in Co. Wicklow.
Beginning with the dramatic discovery of the decomposed body of Olive Collins, owner of one of the six houses in this enclosed community, last seen three months before and found mummified on an armchair in her home, the investigation into her death centres on the residents of the other five houses nearby. Though this genre, the “closed room” investigation, is well tested and can feel old-fashioned compared with today’s grittier crime fiction, Spain presents us here with fully rounded psychological portraits of her characters, adults and children, leaving us in no doubt that any of them could be responsible for the murder of Olive…..if murder it was.
From the start it is clear that many of the residents had reason to hate Olive. Her interfering, self-righteous and passive aggressive nature was easily offended and she was always able to justify to herself her malicious responses to her neighbours. Spain allows her to talk from beyond the grave and after each “incident”, we are presented with Olive’s version of the events and a clearer picture emerges of what a difficult and unpleasant person she was. Spain keeps us guessing to the very end and, unlike the disappointment we feel at the end of many works of detective fiction, her resolution is believable and totally in keeping with the characters we have met in the novel.
The reader, Michele Moran, a hugely talented Irish actress who also reads another Jo Spain novel for Audible, “The Confession”, is excellent throughout and is able to bring a wide range of characters to life. If you haven’t listened to a Jo Spain novel before, all six are available from Audible. Go ahead. Try one. You have a treat in store!