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by Olivia Kiernan
Dutton, April 2018
304 pages
ISBN: 1524742619

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has just been cleared to return to duty following a confrontation with a killer that almost permanently ended her career. Still somewhat shaken by her brush with death, she is therefore quite content to head off to look into an apparent suicide. Eleanor Costello, a successful doctor, has been found hanged in her comfortable Dublin home. But closer examination will reveal that Eleanor has suffered numerous injuries while she was alive and there is the peculiar circumstance that a brushful of Prussian Blue pigment has been carefully applied to her body post mortem.

Frankie is in charge of what looks very much like a murder investigation and when another woman's body turns up, similarly bearing Prussian Blue, the Dublin murder squad fears they may have a serial killer on their hands. The prospect is particularly daunting, since the accused in the previous murder case is just about to come up for trial (they apparently move right along in the Dublin courts) and Frankie is only just beginning to feel the psychological damage she suffered when she was physically attacked. She will be required to testify at the trial and, far from looking forward to a measure of retribution, she is shaken by the necessity to appear.

The investigation leads Frankie and her team into areas they have been only distantly aware of previously. The signs of violence on Eleanor's body at first suggest domestic abuse, especially since her husband Peter appears to have run off. In time, however, the police are led to the murky world of S&M, B&D, and a shady chat site on the Dark Web. Eleanor, it appears, was leading a rather more convoluted life than her public persona would indicate.

TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE is a debut and as such displays some not uncommon beginner's errors. It is told in the first person and present tense by Frankie herself and on the whole this approach works well enough to provide an effective portrait of a woman who is desperate to preserve her reputation on the force as a tough-talking, take-no-prisoners senior police officer in complete control of the case while hiding the fact that she is privately far from recovered from the knife attack on her that left her in considerable and lasting pain both physical and psychological. But certain descriptive passages seem to belong to a far different character, a sensitive soul with the heart of a poet. Kiernan has a master's degree in creative writing and it shows at these moments, most occurring early in the book, passages that must have seemed too good to abandon.

The wobbles of control and a certain degree of over-plotting aside, the book shows a lot of promise. The Dublin setting is attractive, the relationship between Frankie and her team convincing, and Frankie herself shows considerable promise as the prospective central character of a developing series. I look forward to seeing how she fares.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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