- Crime Fiction’s Dublin: Reconstructing Reality in Novels by Dermot Bolger, Gene Kerrigan, and Tana French
It is simply not possible to allow a phrase like “postcolonial literature” still to wander about like a decomposing chicken in search of its head, and to have it foisted upon the backs of younger writers.dermot bolger, Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction, 1992
Writers now invent other sorts of Ireland.colm toóiíbiín, London Review of Books, 1996
In the last few years, Irish-set crime writing has not merely begun to blossom but has become arguably the nearest thing we have to realist literature adequate to capturing the nature of contemporary society.fintan o’toole, Irish Times, 2009
Three epigraphs, from important progressive voices, anchor my essay and embody the trajectory of my argument. Dermot Bolger’s resistance to postcolonial strictures about subjects and approaches accompanied characteristically generous editorial activism, as the writer’s remarks were the introduction to his groundbreaking 1992 anthology of contemporary fiction—a vivid literary testimony to his wisdom. A few years later, just as the Celtic Tiger was getting underway, Colm Tóibín’s important review of Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation argued against a similar set of assumptions on different grounds. O’Toole’s more recent comments on Irish crime fiction, a genre that is blooming after economic boom and bust, point toward a central contention of this article: the minority literary pushback voiced by Bolger and Tóibín, passing through dramatic economic and social swings around the turn of the century, takes flight in the genre of crime fiction. While O’Toole noted [End Page 121] that “the most successful Irish crime writer, John Connolly, who began his career just a decade ago, felt it necessary to set his books in the U.S.,” it is the “fallen world [of] boom-time Ireland” (359, 360) as captured by Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan, and Alan Glynn that has come to the fore. These writers’ engagement with Dublin in particular offers readers realistically observed depictions of Ireland’s capital city, as does crime fiction by writers including Gene Kerrigan, Arlene Hunt, Tana French, and Ingrid Black (pseudonym of writing team Eilis O’Hanlon and Ian McConnel).
Crucially, crime fiction is able to illuminate the very circumstances that led to its emergence. Beyond chronological parallels that might otherwise appear purely coincidental—Irish crime fiction finding its feet during turbulent economic and social times—there is investigation of those turbulent times within the genre fiction itself. Through analysis of work by internationally successful crime novelists Gene Kerrigan and Tana French, this essay elucidates some of the ways Irish crime fiction uses the genre to mount that investigation. French, a New York Times bestselling author, and Kerrigan, whose 2011 novel The Rage was selected to launch Europa’s World Noir series in 2013, are producing important representations of contemporary Dublin for readers in Ireland and abroad, and their success indicates that the comparatively young field of Irish crime fiction may come to play a significant role in international crime fiction. While French’s circumscribed first-person narratives contrast with Kerrigan’s on-the-go streets of Dublin featured in his stories, both take advantage of crime fiction’s potential for social record and critique. My essay offers an analysis of the crime novels of Kerrigan and French (four titles each as of 2013) that is contextualized by crime-fiction scholarship, and it argues that these novels use the genre to construct compelling portraits of contemporary Dublin’s public and private spaces. After briefly examining the early novels of Dermot Bolger as literary forebears of the emergence of Irish crime fiction in the twenty-first century, I turn to Gene Kerrigan’s new Dubliners to demonstrate his transformative use of the police procedural ensemble to capture moral ambiguities. I follow this with an analysis of Tana French’s psychological crime fiction and its presentation of uncertainty and unknowing.
Seventeen years before giving recognition to Irish crime fiction in the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole predicted a different direction for [End Page 122] Irish writers intent...