Too Close to Breathe - Olivia Kiernan

Too Close to Breathe - Olivia Kiernan ***

It sounds like a fairly generic title for a thriller, but Olivia Tiernan's Too Close to Breathe perhaps tells us a little more about the nature of the book that you might think, and perhaps even more than the author realises. Set in Dublin, this pacy serial killer thriller introduces a new police detective, DCS Frankie Sheenan, a Garda police detective investigating serious crime in Dublin, where the cases she is involved with do seem to be rather close to home.

In this first DCS Sheenan novel, Frankie has only just returned to duty after suffering a knife wound to the head while investigating another case involving a dangerous killer. That case is about to come to trial and Frankie will soon be called as a witness. Still suffering to some extent from pain and trauma from the injury, she is nonetheless deemed fit to return to work by her boss, who asks her to look into a new investigation.

Eleanor Costello, a microbiologist and university lecturer has been found dead in her home, an apparent suicide. Sheenan is quick to note that the death looks suspicious, and an autopsy confirms this, revealing signs that someone else was present and likely involved in her death. Eleanor's death has other unusual elements, traces of Prussian Blue ink on her body, an interest in Chagall paintings and a laptop showing signs of activity in Dark Web chat rooms for people with interest in near-death experience S&M, but rather more suspicious and of immediate interest is the fact that Eleanor's husband has disappeared.

Other than the use of Dublin locations and locales, there is however nothing particularly Irish-interest related about Too Close to Breathe. Unlike the novels of Jo Spain or Michael Russell, where Irish history and culture plays a large part in the nature of the crimes, Olivia Kiernan's Too Close to Breathe could take place almost anywhere. Any concerns about the novel being a generic thriller are however at least sidestepped by the unusual features which make it difficult to determine exactly where it is going to go. As other deaths are added and a connection is made to Sheenan's previous case as it is going to court, matters become even more complicated.

Complicated, but rather too conveniently connected you might think, but it does tend to suggest that Dublin is a very close community, a relatively small place where a web of cliques, societies and connections operate, where it is really too close to breathe without someone noticing. With plenty of nosy neighbours around, gossip being shared, friends and relatives connected, and quite a few more people than you might think likely of all ages and backgrounds scouting around on the Dark Web and taking part in odd and deviant sexual activity, Sheenan is convinced that there was more going on with Eleanor Costello than her colleagues and acquaintances at the UCD are letting on.

You would think then that DCS Sheenan would get to the bottom of this long before she does, but Olivia Kiernan realistically looks at the pressures, practicalities and realities of police investigation. Lines of enquiry and arrests are made that don't always hold up or have enough evidence to proceed, and time can be wasted that way. Cuts in police funding are also a reality, making those lines of enquiry even more difficult to follow up, but it does seem strange that the Gardaí officials would want to pull the plug on an unresolved investigation into a high-profile case of connected murders in Dublin at such an early stage.

While such matters niggle rather than introduce an against the clock tension that might have been intended, Kiernan does nonetheless keep matters moving purposely forward towards a conclusion. The resolution does however feel a little too rushed and staged, not really giving the reader a fair go at figuring out who is behind it all. With Sheenan also becoming personally involved as a near-victim herself and becoming too close to not breathing in two cases in the same novel/investigation, there's a feeling that she's rather too conveniently and neatly hauled out of a potential mess by chance rather than any real investigation.

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan is published by Riverrun on 5th April 2018

Amazon UK - Too Close to Breathe: A heart-stopping thriller, new for 2018 (Frankie Sheehan)

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