Gerard O’Donovan’s first novel is definitely an attention-getter. The title of the book, THE PRIEST, which is set in Ireland, suggests another look among hundreds of the scandal and criminal actions of members of the Catholic church. It isn’t. The priest of the title isn’t a priest at all.
Inspector Matthew Mulcahy has just returned to Dublin after years on the drug squad with Europol. He had made a life in Spain, loving the bright sun and the mild weather that kept the streets of Madrid alive, bursting with life. Mulcahy loved his job and was far from pleased when the recession led to a re-structuring of the drug unit and a reassessment of the number of police needed to keep it functioning. Mulcahy, despite his fluency in Spanish, was superfluous to requirements and found himself back in Ireland without a specific assignment. There are rumors that a new national drug squad is to be established in Cork and Mulcahy hopes his resume will get him back to what he wants to do.
In the meantime, he is something of a jack-of-all-trades. That changes when Mulcahy is required for his Spanish skills. The daughter of a high-ranking minister in the Spanish government has been brutally attacked. Despite the extent of her injuries, she needs to be interviewed and Mulcahy finds himself assigned to the sexual assault unit, not where he wants his career to go. But Jesica Salazar is terrified and traumatized and the police need whatever information she can give them.
Mulcahy goes slowly with the girl, taking his time. Jesica’s injures are horrific. She has been beaten but more unsettling are the terrible burns all over her body. Mulcahy can’t get much information from her but she tells him that the man was like a priest. He was dressed in black, he had a large crucifix, and he gave her a blessing, using his hands just as a priest does. And he took the cross she always wore around her neck, the cross that belonged to her mother before she died.
Mulcahy examines the photos of Jesica’s body and is stunned when he realizes that the burns were made my holding a hot, metal cross on her body. Jesica was not raped in the usual manner and Mulcahy doubts it was a sexual assault. He thinks the elements indicate that the assailant is a religious fanatic. Mulcahy has been foisted on Inspector Claire Brogan’s team and she does not want to hear any alternative theories to suggest it wasn’t a sexual assault. Mulcahy persists and finds himself maneuvered out of the information loop.
When more victims are discovered, the police are confronted with a serial attacker who doesn’t kill his victims. He wants them to suffer and he wants them to live with the damage he does to them, physically and psychologically. Then one of the victims dies from the trauma of the attack, and the game changes. Mulcahy isn’t going to let this case go so he decides to work on his own or, at least, he thinks he is alone until Siobhan Fallon, a reporter for a weekend tabloid, decides “the priest” is the story that is going to make her career.
THE PRIEST is a police procedural that is true to form and, because it is, it is a book that the reader will not want to put down. Matt Mulcahy is a terrific character to add to the other great Irish detectives – Brian McGilloway’s Benedict Devlin, Paul Charles’ Inspector Starrett, and Declan Hughes’ Ed Loy. Siobhan Fallon is a bit annoying, but she improves as the story unfolds.
O’Donovan is a Dubliner so the setting is brought to life, neighborhoods of the city made distinct. The book is definitely one that reflects the time, now. Ireland is no longer under the control of the Catholic church. The men of the church have done their worst but O’Donovan looks at the real country and reminds readers that crime by other deviants and monsters still continues.
THE PRIEST is an outstanding first novel and reflects in its details the journalism background of the author. The second book in the series is due to be published in the fall (at least published in the UK in 2011) and two more books are in the planning stage. Gerard O’Donovan is a great find for mystery and thriller lovers.