Double review: City of Lost Girls by Declan Hughes & The Priest by Gerard Donovan

Double review: City of Lost Girls by Declan Hughes & The Priest by Gerard Donovan
Published in The Sunday Business Post on June 20th, 2010, reviewed by Alex Meehan

The key question facing would-be crime authors is how to strike an original note in what is perhaps the most cliché ridden of literary genres. Some attempt to carve a genuinely new literary furrow, while others are happy to take advantage of the literary conventions expected of them – the fans know what they want, why not give it to them?

Declan Hughes’s hardboiled Dublin detective, Ed Loy, gets to go back to where it all started in the City of Lost Girls, as Hughes places him in a caper that sees Loy travel from Dublin to Los Angeles, the spiritual home of the cynical private dick.

And with Loy, this is exactly what you get – a detective unashamedly cast in the mould of a long tradition of jaded, burned-out, West Coast investigators.

With movie studio subplots and a cast of characters drawn from both high society and street level criminality, all the ingredients of a classic detective novel are here, as Loy is drawn back into a life he thought he had left behind.

Famous Irish filmmaker Jack Donovan asks Loy to look into a series of threatening letters he’s received, all of which contain a religious theme. Donovan thinks an estranged family member may be behind the religious threats.

At the same time, a couple of young extras have disappeared from the set of his latest movie being shot in Dublin. In order to complete the film, he needs them back on set. Donovan and Loy go way back, but have officially fallen out, and Loy is wary of being drawn back into his old friend’s narcissistic dramas. A paying gig is a paying gig, though.

Meanwhile, most of the crew assume that the missing extras have merely gone on a boozy bender. However, Loy starts to think something isn’t quite right about the situation.

Fifteen years before, three girls went missing in similar circumstance from the set of a movie Donovan was involved with in Malibu, California, and Loy becomes convinced there’s a connection.

When the bodies of the first set of missing girls are discovered, Loy jumps on a plane to California to see if one crime scene can shed light on another.

Loy is also struggling to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, Anne Fogerty – and a recently released convict from his past seems to be intent on causing the private investigator some problems.

City of Lost Girls isn’t a particularly original book, but it’s all the richer for it. It’s a comforting read that toys with some very well-established convent ions and doesn’t attempt to redefine the genre. Hughes knows what his readers want and is happy to give it to them – a splash of scandal, a glimpse into high society shenanigans and thinly veiled descriptions of the fictional antics of actors and musicians.

Meanwhile, Gerard O’Donovan’s debut novel, The Priest, is an enjoyable account of Detective Inspector Mike Mulcahy’s attempts to snare a religiously-fixated attacker stalking the streets of Dublin. Recently returned to Ireland from Spain, where his infidelity brought about the end of hismarriage, Mulcahy is sunk in melancholy.

He’s back living in the decaying family home where his recently deceased parents raised him, and pondering a career that seems to be going nowhere fast.

When the daughter of a high-profile Spanish politician is brutally attacked and branded with a red-hot cross, Mulcahy is drafted in for his Spanish language skills, a move that doesn’t go down well with the inspector on the case, Claire Brogan, or her smarmy sidekick Andy Cassidy.

But Mulcahy perseveres, convinced that Brogan and Cassidy’s prime suspect is not the real culprit, and that the Priest has struck before. When he’s not chasing down the killer, Mulcahy is spending time with ambitious reporter Síobhan Fallon.

Fresh from a scoop involving the extra-marital adventures of the wife of the coach of the Irish soccer team, Fallon is on the lookout for her next big story when an anonymous tip guides her in the direction of Mulcahy’s case.

There’s more than one clichéd character in the pages of O’Donovan’s book; Fallon, in particular, is almost a caricature of a careerdriven professional woman with little time in her life for anything but her job.

But in Mike Mulcahy, O’Donovan has created a well drawn, multi-faceted cop who readers are likely to want to spend more time with in the future.

In Claire Brogan, he has also given a glimpse into the life of a character that has the potential to be far more interesting than Fallon.

In his next book O’Donovan could do a lot worse than expand on the themes of Brogan’s unhappy marriage, and her struggle to combine motherhood with a demanding job.

The Priest is an impressive debut, with a well paced plot and enough twists to keep the reader interested until the last page.

But O’Donovan is prone to hyperbole at times, and the eventual capture of the Priest is perhaps a little too overblown. Still, most of the issues with the novel are small ones that could be easily ironed out by the time Mike Mulcahy tackles his next case.

Quick, get the net . . .

I was on my way through Rathgar the other day, when a traffic snarl resulted in my sitting in traffic for a few minutes, right beside the lamp post pictured below. Out of the corner of my eye, I registered the words ‘Warning’ and ‘Vaccine.’

When I actually took a look at what was postered up, I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Take a look yourself:

I am a big fan of the Skeptoid podcast series broadcast by Brian Dunning in the US, and by coincidence I had recently listened to an episode in which Dunning debunked the supposed evidence to support the idea that there is a global government conspiracy to deliberately ‘seed’ our skies with an unnamed chemicals, in the form of the exhaust trails that are typically seen behind jet engined aircraft flying at high altitudes in the sky.

Yep, that’s pretty far out there. I suppose if you’re the kind of person who lives in their parent’s basement and lines the inside of their baseball caps with tin foil to keep ‘the messages’ out, maybe that makes some kind of sense. (Or perhaps I’m part of the conspiracy!). I tend to think that wacko ideas like that only really exist on the internet, but in this case, somebody actually believes this one enough to print posters off an flypost them around Dublin. Freeky or what?

News story on kid’s attitudes to business

Entrepreneurial spirit should be fuelled by enterprising education

Published in The Sunday Business Post on June 13th, 2010. By Alex Meehan

The future for entrepreneurship in Ireland looks bright, according to a new survey of secondary school students.

Of six hundred 12 to14-yearold students surveyed in the report by non-profit group Junior Achievement, three out of five said they would like to set up their own business when they were older. Two out of three said they wanted to learn more about running a business.

However, according to Della Clancy, executive director of Junior Achievement, more work will have to be done if entrepreneurial ambitions are to translate into job creation in the Irish economy.

‘‘Teaching enterprise is one of the main aims of Junior Achievement,” Clancy‘ said. ‘‘I think kids are naturally entrepreneurial, but we educate it out of them. Small children think setting up their own enterprise is wonderful – they’re terribly confident and creative – but as they get older they start to see problems, risks and downsides, so they opt for safety.”

Clancy believes the Irish education system ‘‘does not particularly reward’’ creativity or enterprise.

‘‘There’s no doubt that it rewards rote learning,” she said.

‘‘Teachers often willingly admit they are not necessarily the best people to teach enterprise – many of them went to school, then to college and then into the world of work as educators, so they don’t usually have direct experience of the business world.

‘‘It’s our experience that they welcome the world of business into their classrooms. Businesspeople can teach kids about the world of work, and can bring it alive for them.”

The Junior Achievement survey found that, despite the recession, nearly four out of five students are still confident they will be able to get the job they want when they leave school. Fewer than one in ten believe they will have to emigrate to find work.

More than nine out of ten students felt the Leaving Certificate would help them get the job they wanted, while almost all planned to stay in school to complete the Leaving. Three quarters of students plan to continue their education after school, with just under one in ten considering apprenticeships.

Clancy said this was good news for anyone concerned about the future of employment and the Irish economy generally.

‘‘The 20 per cent of children who have been leaving school without doing the Leaving face a far tougher time in the job market,” she said. ‘‘Whatever hope you have of finding and keeping a job disappears without a Leaving Cert; kids that drop out at that point in their education face a bleak future.

The world has changed, and qualifications are more important than ever. Even a primary degree is increasingly seen as a basic qualification.”

Despite the efforts of many organisations to boost students’ interest in maths, it appears that the subject still presents difficulties.

While three out of five of those surveyed felt they were good at maths, half said they didn’t enjoy the subject, and just two out of five described themselves as interested in careers involving maths, science or technology.

‘‘Maths represents a particular difficulty,” Clancy said. ‘‘If you think back to your own school experiences, if you missed a few classes here and there in a language or history class, you could catch up. But if you miss a few classes in maths covering a particular mathematical technique, it can be very difficult to catch up.

‘‘There is also definitely an attitude problem: if you decide you’re not good at maths, that you’re not a maths-type person, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

There’s also a gender issue around maths, with research showing that girls are often afraid to outshine the boys at maths because it’s not seen as being feminine.”

Junior Achievement is currently providing programmes to 63,000 students around the country in partnership with help from 3,000 business volunteers from public and private sector organisations such as EMC2, 3M, GSK and Eircom.

Clancy believes this type of activity is crucial to fostering an enterprise culture among young people.

‘‘Enterprise education should be embedded in the system; a couple of weeks in transition year just aren’t effective in instilling an interest or appreciation of it in kids,” she said.

‘‘We’re a nation of small and medium enterprises; those companies all began in a small way, and now contribute massively to the economy.

‘‘We think we bring something very important to this entire scenario, because all our programmes are taught by people from the world of work.

They bring it alive for the kids, and that helps a lot.”