Before Brian O’Hare retired, he was Assistant Director of the Southern Regional College in Northern Ireland. He attended the University of Ulster, obtaining both an MA. and a Ph.D, and he has lived in Newry, Northern Ireland, all his life. He is married with three children, ten grandchildren, and one great grandchild. He plays golf three times a week off a ten handicap and does a lot of voluntary work. Any writing he did in his professional life was academic – very much restricted to a very specific readership. Several articles in educational journals were followed by a number of book-length reports for the Dept. of Education and the University of Ulster.
I’m delighted to welcome him to my website today as I am a great admirer of his fiction, and I am determined – notwithstanding all the pressures on my time – to catch up with his canon, review all the books he has written since retiring, and then keep up with him until one of us dies.
The Doom Murders, published in September 2013 has been the recipient of two literary awards to date – The IDB Award in 2014 and The New Apple Award, 2014, for Excellence in Independent Publishing. Here’s what I had to say about this terrific detective story:
The author is a master of the genre. The first sentence – “DCI Jim Sheehan studied the mutilated corpse.” – is almost a tongue in cheek acknowledgement of the lovably clichéd parameters of the genre; but our discovery in paragraph 3 that the naked body posed on its back with its tongue pulled three inches out of its mouth and “knife wounds all over the place” belongs to the Bishop of the Diocese of Down and Connor provides an intriguing indication that this is going to give you rather more to think about than your average ‘whodunit’ by an author whose sole purpose is to challenge/tease his readers with carefully concealed clues and myriad red herrings along the way.
Professor O’Hare is a retired academic with a deep interest and involvement in Roman Catholicism. The story’s setting is the uneasy aftermath of sectarian strife during the ‘troubles’ in Belfast: opposing doctrines, intransigence, grinding poverty, and religious and nationalist causes being brandished as feeble excuses for mindless violence. A primary concern in this book however, is how disturbing many sincere Catholics find the effect of modern liberal thinking on their Church’s traditional stance concerning such fundamental issues as divorce and homosexuality. The desire for former straight-line certainties is symbolised by the yearning of many traditionalists for the ‘Old Latin Mass’, the Modern English version seeming hardly different from its anodyne, Protestant/Anglican counterpart.
Beliefs deeply and unquestioningly held in childhood may be shed in the hurly-burly of modern life, especially when facing the routine challenges of being a policeman in Belfast; only to return to haunt the erstwhile holder, leaving him or her with a sense of spiritual longing unfulfilled. In other situations, an excess of misdirected zeal may lead a psychologically disturbed adherent to take God’s clearly stated Law into what they imagine to be divinely guided hands. This is Belfast after all: no half measures.“This is where I have always stood, and this is where I will continue to stand.” I can still hear Ian Paisley saying it.
A compelling murder mystery is played out in this complex setting. I found it an absorbing and thought-provoking read. It is a well-written and unusually profound example of the genre, which I recommend without reservation.
Here’s what Brian himself had to say about where the idea for the book came from:
“Among my various interests, I like to read about art and have many books on artists from all over the world. I was browsing through one of these books and spent some time contemplating a painting of The Last Judgement by a fifteenth century artist, Rogier van der Weyden. For some reason, a piece of advice to writers from Stephen King came into my head. King said, “Always ask ‘Why?’, or ‘What if…?” I was studying the distorted figures of the damned souls hurtling down into the abyss and wondered: “What if a Chief Inspector was faced by a series of gruesome murders and found the bodies posed in strange and grotesque shapes identical to those on this Doom?” (‘Dooms’ are mediaeval paintings of The Last Judgement.) Then came the next question: “Why would anyone want to do that?””
When I emailed Brian about this blog earlier in the week he gave me some GREAT news! His new publisher really liked The Doom Murders and wants a series featuring Chief Inspector Jim Sheehan. Having no experience in writing stuff to order, Brian was initially very nervous of the idea, but he has just completed The 11:05 Murders (a rather more complex mystery that the first one), so now he feels that he can get on and write a third, and a fourth… YAY! Crimson Cloak Publishing will be releasing The 11:05 Murders early in 2016. Look out for it.
The book has a chilling backstory that I pulled from his website:
“Some time ago a very nice lady asked me to write her story for her. She told me that until her late thirties she had a complete belief that she had had a wonderful childhood and a most loving mother. She was very successful in her job (manageress of a large office), Lady Captain of the Golf Club, and very much the life and soul of any gathering she found herself in.
Then out of the blue she was attacked by some very debilitating symptoms – first her shoulder, then her neck and, finally, most of her body… aching pains for which the doctor could make no diagnosis and for which he could prescribe no successful remedies.
This phase of illness was followed by a very severe depression which could not be explained by the physical symptoms alone. She could no longer function normally, had to give up her job and began to lock herself in her house. But counselling, followed eventually by hypnotherapy, revealed that she had for most of her life been blocking out memories of most horrific abuse (sexual and physical) by her mother and that the life-long memories of a wonderful mother-love had been a mental sham.
I spent a number of hours (over several interviews) talking with her, hearing details that froze my blood, details about what the mother herself did to the child at home, details about how she hired out the four-year-old child to local paedophiles. The more I heard, the more I did not want to write this book. It came as a huge relief to me when the lady lost her nerve and asked me to abandon the project.
The lady did find some sort of healing and still receives counselling but she remains very fragile mentally, insecure, and still unable to hold down a job. The book will never be written now, but the awful story continues to remain stuck in my head.
Then came the terrible revelations in Ireland about paedophile priests and the resultant fall-out on perfectly innocent priests, about the clerical ambition and cover-ups that made matters worse… and a story started to form. I wanted to write about priests who were good, men who were solid, but men who had flaws that were simply human. I wanted to show that good men can fall and that good men can find redemption I wanted the ‘good-looking young priest’ to have an affair with one of the choir girls…but how to do that and still preserve the character’s essential integrity? It would only be believable if he had somehow lost control of his will, of his spirituality.
And then I thought about the lady’s story…and… Father Ray was born and Fallen Men came to be written. It’s a rather strange sort of book. I think the idea that it is religious fiction (it is actually a lot more than that) puts people off, but those that actually read it are giving it 5* reviews – even a self-confessed atheist. Go figure!”
Fallen Men, published on Amazon Kindle in September 2012, is a story of three priests. All are good, spiritual men so why does young Father Ray Canavan Ray find himself on trial in a Dublin court for statutory rape of a minor? And why is his equally popular friend, Father Dan Patterson, raucously accused of murder by a member of his congregation as he attempts to celebrate a Requiem Mass? And why does Canon Tony Mulholland so lose sight of his priestly responsibilities that he tries to cover up Ray’s indiscretions by sending him to hide in Italy?
Fallen Men touches on dark themes but ultimately it is a novel of redemption. It is a story that will bring tears to many eyes and characters who will remain in your heart long after you have put the book down. John Anthony, publisher, says: “Anyone who has read and enjoyed Colleen McCullough’s Thornbirds will also enjoy Fallen Men.”
Now on to a third book of Brian’s: A Spiritual Odyssey.
This is the compelling story of a six-year journey that took Brian on two converging paths – a burgeoning spirituality, and a dramatic physical degeneration that took him to the doors of death. It is essentially a witness to the miraculous grace of God, and how it reaches into both soul and body. He struggles with questions of a theological nature, but not in an academic way. The questions emerge from the practical, often confusing circumstances, in which he finds himself and he tries to understand his growing spirituality and to seek intimacy with Jesus.
Finally, Brian’s book The Miracle Ship was published in July this year and it already has 58 reviews with an average of 4.9! Here’s the intriguing blurb on Amazon:
“YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU’RE READING BUT EVERY WORD IS TRUE!! Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in demonic possession? Do you believe in exorcism? A little girl with irreparable brain damage was pronounced dead by two hospital specialists. Today she is a healthy teenager. A teenage boy whose spine was crushed by a lorry was diagnosed as permanently paralysed. He now plays football with his friends. A curse that brought death over five generations has been lifted. People tormented by demons have been set free. How were such miracles wrought? What do they have in common? They have John Gillespie in common. Who is he? How has he been gifted with such extraordinary power? The Miracle Ship tells John’s story. But it does so much more than that. Yes, the book essentially focuses on miracles. Yes, it contains many extraordinary stories of healing and deliverance. Yes, it focuses strongly on the spiritual warfare that so many Christians are engaged in without any awareness of its dangers. But the book goes to the very heart of what is needed to find healing and deliverance. It tells of the obstacles and difficulties that get in the way of true healing prayer. It reveals the many pitfalls that lie in wait in seemingly innocent healing practices. It spells out in detail the serious dangers that underpin many apparently beneficial New Age therapies. And it offers many examples of the kinds of prayers and life-styles that can bring healing to the body and to the mind. It can even turn around lives that are falling apart (and this has already been several times communicated to the author or John Gillespie by people who have read this book on Kindle.) This is a book that should be read by all Christians. John’s message is profoundly insightful and, if it is uncompromising, it is laced with faith, forgiveness and truth. Many who have read the book have described it as ‘life-changing.’ This true account of his life, of the miracles and deliverances that follow his prayers, will amaze you. Millions of people love to hear and read about miracles. Sr. Briege McKenna’s book Miracles Do Happen has sold all over the world in its millions. If you read and liked Miracles Do Happen, you’ll love The Miracle Ship.”
Now I am a died-in-the-wool atheist myself (I won’t run the arguments past you here), but life and William Shakespeare have taught me that “nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so”, and therefore I know with every fibre of my being that ‘God’ exists for those who believe that s/he exists, and that the power of faith can work what such believers will be convinced are miracles. I haven’t read Miracles Do Happen but I will read The Miracle Ship because doing so will help me get closer to an author I admire: someone I know already to be an admirable man.
Amazon.co.uk: Brian O’Hare: Books, Biogs, Audiobooks, Discussions: http://amzn.to/1MA532K
Amazon.co.uk link to The Miracle Ship: http://amzn.to/1PBP97Q
Amazon.co.uk link to The Doom Murders: http://amzn.to/1E7mdDG
Amazon.co.uk link to Fallen Men: http://amzn.to/1NxOGo9
Amazon.co.uk link to A Spiritual Odyssey: http://amzn.to/1HY355Q