Great characters, a Northern Irish setting, and the devil is in the detail.

The Coven Murders (The Inspector Sheehan Mysteries Book 3) - Brian Hare

Thanks to the author for providing me an ARC copy of the novel that I freely chose to review.

I read and reviewed a previous novel in this series (The 11:05 Murders. The Inspector Sheehan Mysteries Book 2) some time back and really enjoyed the cast of characters (it was refreshing to see a team of the police working together and not full of corrupt individuals for whom solving a mystery is the last thing in their agendas) and the well-built plot, full of twists and turns.

The author pre-warned me that this was quite a different type of beast and the plot was less standard. If you’ve read the above description you’ll have realised already that is the case. I love horror, but perhaps because I’ve read and watched a lot in the horror genre, it takes a fair bit to scare me. From the genre point of view, although this novel has pretty eerie moments, I did not feel truly scared. It might depend on the readers’ personal beliefs and in how worried they are about Satan and evil powers.

This novel is again written in the third person. Although it is mostly told from Inspector Sheehan’s point of view, some other members of his team get some space as well, and this allows readers to catch up on some their personal developments, and also to get a detailed account of some aspects of the investigation that Sheehan is not directly involved in. I grew very fond of some of the characters in the previous book and I was pleased to see what they’d been up to. Readers who worry about head-hopping don’t need to be concerned in this case, as each individual chapter is solely told from one point of view, and it is clear whose head we are in.

The plot is once more well-constructed and involved, although I did not find it too difficult to spot (or suspect) who the guilty party was, but, in my opinion this novel was a bit different and the emphasis was not on guessing who’d done it. The prologue sets up the story for readers and give us clues that Sheehan’s team are not privy to, and therefore we are at a somewhat unfair advantage. If I had to put it another way, I’d say that ‘the devil is in the detail’ (pun intended). For me, the novel became a process to see how the investigation team would put all the clues together, and also how the different strands and the new and old crimes fitted in. How would an eminently practical team accept what the clues seemed to point at and how would they confront such otherworldly forces?

Once again I think one of the strong points is the team and the interaction between its members (we even get a new member, sort of, and some extra help) and especially the fact that this time the strength of the bond between its members is put to the test in a very extreme way.

I enjoyed the setting of the story in Northern Ireland, the reflections of the text on politic and religious matters there, and I enjoyed meeting two characters who become pivotal to the case and join forces with the depleted team (I understand one of these characters had appeared in book 1 of the series but I have yet to read it).They are stupendous and I hope we’ll meet them again in other books.

The writing is dynamic and flows well, and the intrigue will keep readers turning the pages, although it does not move at neck-breaking pace. There is sufficient detail to allow the readers to easily imagine where things are taking place without slowing the action, and despite the tense moments, there are also plenty of light and humorous interactions that allow us a bit of a break from the tension.

I know that some people do not enjoy books with satanic themes. If that’s the case, you’d better avoid it, although I don’t think one needs to have strong religious beliefs to enjoy the book (I am sure most paranormal readers enjoy the flights of fancy the genre allows without necessarily thinking all the premises are true if any). No matter what one’s position is, the plot requires some suspension of disbelief, and personally, I am not a big fan of blaming the devil for all the ills of the world, but I enjoyed the book and I’m keen on seeing where the next case will take Sheehan and his team.

I recommend it to those who enjoy mysteries, police procedural novels, who are especially interested in a Northern Irish setting, and who are willing to stretch their imagination beyond the usual suspects.