Black Water by Cormac O’Keeffe Black and White Publishing April 19th 2018
Tara Crowe is a young detective in a hurry. She is on a mission to clean up the gangs that rule the gritty streets alongside Dublin’s Grand Canal. To do so, she must tackle local crime boss ‘Ghost’ and his notorious crew head on. Ten-year-old Jig is the newest, and proudest, member of that crew. He’s lost his granda, his home life is chaos – all that’s left is his football and his dog, Bowie. When Jig is sent to deliver a threat for his boss, an old woman dies and all hell breaks loose. For Tara, it’s the chance she’s been waiting for, a way to finally get at Ghost. But every time she thinks she’s getting close, something gets in her way and she begins to suspect a mole in the station. Football coach Shay tries to shield boys like Jig from the Canal Gang, but before long his underworld connections
put his own family in the firing line. Shay has nothing to lose, but little to live for if he can’t hold the black waters of the canal at bay. As the violence continues to escalate with the murder of a child and a policewoman, the struggle for survival comes to a head. There will be many losers, but there can only be one winner.
Fast-paced, compelling and expertly plotted, Black Water introduces a powerful new voice in contemporary crime fiction
Black Water packs a punch right from the opening pages. It takes us away from the tourist strewn streets of Dublin to its back streets and canals. The playground of many, the streets and canals are host to numerous gangs all vying for control. The Canal Gang rule the roost, and provide the gritty characters that dominate the novel. Head of the gang is the Lock Man, rich on his profits, hiding in his mansion, leaving the dirty work to others. His henchman is the charismatic Ghost, who lets nothing stand in his way, using young lads to carry out his errands, do his running, taking advantage of their poor backgrounds. It is his hold over ten year Jig that stirred so many emotions, that made me loathe him from the outset, that hoped he would meet a suitably nasty ending at some point in the novel!
O’Keeffe’s characterisation of Jig is brilliant. He is so wonderfully multi dimensional, tugging at my heartstrings, frustrating me the next. His is a world with no love or nurturing, no positive role models for him to look up to. I wanted to shake his parents, to make them show him some love, to look after him and protect him, but they themselves are a victim of circumstance, of their own up bringing and their environment. The only thing that shows Jig any love is his dog, Bowie and his absent Grandad. It is no wonder that Jig falls under Ghost’s spell and into the clutches of the Canal Gang.
On the other side is Shay, struggling to keep his family together, to protect his children from the violence on their doorstep. From the outset I knew that Shay didn’t belong on the back streets of Dublin, that he might be not who I thought he would be. He is a character that I instantly rooted for, wanted things to work out for, but knew that his journey would be a tough one. Shay’s role as the community football coach is his opportunity to try and give his young team a way out of the violence and the gangs, one that he tries so hard to show Jig. O’Keefe’s portrayal of Shay and Jig’s relationship is well done. I could feel Shay’s frustration and at times desperation with Jig as he tried so hard to steer him away from the Canal Gang. His sense of responsibility and need to save Jig from harm when others see Jig as mere collateral, was perhaps a way to save himself to prove that he is a good person, a way to atone for a past he wishes never happened.
Black Water is a heavily male dominated novel and I was pleased that the main female protagonist, Garda officer, Tara Crowe was more than a match for her male counterparts. Tara is portrayed as tough, hardworking and ambitious and not afraid to put herself in danger, yet never lost her femininity, or her ability to feel emotion.
Black Water may be a character driven novel but it is also a novel of our times. Every day we read of gangland killings, of younger and younger kids being pulled into drugs and knife crime, and this novel does not shy away from these matters. O’Keeffe’s background as a security correspondent adds a realism to the novel, his understanding of how gangs work, of the way of life for many families in the deprived areas of Dublin, emanated from his narrative. The imagery was bleak and dark, the tension palpable as I read and the depths to which gang members will go to protect their turf and themselves brutal to read.
There was not much opportunity to pause for breath, the pace unrelenting, the tension building to a truly explosive ending. I held my breath at one point wondering who would emerge alive, wandering what the future might hold for Jig, Shay and Crowe.
Black Water is dark, gritty and at times grim reading but it is definitely not just another crime thriller in a vastly saturated market. It is a novel that stands out from the rest, with real depth and intensity, and a narrative heavy with brilliant imagery. It cleverly balances social comment with a deftly realised plot that is intense and fast paced.
O’Keeffe has a bright future and I look forward to his novel.
I would like to thank Lina Langlee and Black and White Publishing for inviting mybookishblogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Cormac O’Keeffe is the award-winning security correspondent for the Irish Examiner– work that has given him unique access to contacts in the police and the community. He has lived near Dublin’s Grand Canal for many years; his professional and personal lives inform and fuel this novel, giving it the intensity, authenticity and originality of personal experience. Cormac blogs about his writing, is a respected book reviewer and appears frequently on national radio and television.
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