In Magee’s debut thriller, a British military operative turned private investigator gets caught in a crossfire when a missing person case takes him deep into the Republican heartland of north Belfast.
This novel operates under a set of rules unique to Northern Ireland: never trust outsiders, keep to yourself, and avoid even the appearance of cooperation with police or other government officials. So when Roisin Byrne hires Jack Brennan to locate her missing husband, the private eye knows he’ll have his work cut out for him. The fact that Tony Byrne—a Catholic who chose to have Protestant friends—could vanish without a trace is disturbing, and even three years after his disappearance, Tony’s friends and neighbors (including the parish priest) remain reluctant to get involved in the investigation. They believe the man is likely dead, the victim of sectarian sparring. It’s a scenario that Brennan finds convincing, but Roisin begs him to continue his search, pleading: “I want him back—even his bones—if that’s all there is.” Despite his misgivings, Brennan continues his investigation. Could the Irish Republican Army be involved? A gang of racketeers? Or is Tony’s disappearance related to a case of mistaken identity? Magee’s novel could have used a bit more action in the first half. However, it succeeds in establishing the taciturn Brennan as a bona fide player in the world of mystery fiction. The duty-bound, resolute PI proves himself as the type of conflicted, rules-be-damned character that’s proven popular time and again with crime-novel fans. Although deeply loyal, Brennan, who also served in the American Special Forces, is bedeviled by a quick temper and trust issues. The author weaves just enough clues about the investigator’s past into the finely developed plot to make sure his lead character’s back story complements, but doesn’t eclipse, the hunt for the missing Tony. Minor copy editing errors are an annoyance, however (“Smartly dressed in mid-grey suits they looked for all the world like a couple of Mormon’s out on a recruiting patrol”). Overall, though, Magee crafts a riveting tale that will keep readers guessing until the end.
A slow boil that expertly paints a private detective and the war-torn land where he resides.