“The Coven Murders” by Brian O’Hare

What gives Brian O’Hare’s Inspector Sheehan mysteries their added frisson for me is the pervasive influence of a rigorously traditional, fundamentalist Roman Catholic viewpoint dominating the thoughts and actions of one or more of the main characters in the context of a rigorously tradition-bound, fundamentally troubled ‘Norn Iron’ (Northern Ireland). I imagine that in such a place, it is as easy to believe in the Devil as it is to believe in God.

In this story, the devils and their minions are very real. It opens with a prologue containing a vivid description of the depraved actions of a Satanic cult, leaving the reader in no doubt what the current case will focus on. We see a human sacrifice committed, twenty-one years before a couple of hikers find skeletal remains in a dingly dell and Inspector Sheehan embarks on the unravelling of the case. What is far less clear, however, is who is committing a whole string of murders with an apparently identical MO, twenty-one years later. As each of the murders is committed, it seems increasingly likely that someone is targeting the cult …

Professor O’Hare is nothing if not thorough. He has done his research, and there is plenty of convincing detail to lend credence to the tale. The clues are there, there are no red herrings, and the perpetrator/s can eventually be identified by the reader, provided s/he is paying close attention to everything the characters do and say throughout.

It is on record that Martin Luther once threw his inkhorn at the devil. When I was growing up, the spilling of salt always occasioned the throwing of some of it over your left shoulder. I learned later that this practice was based on the belief that the devil stands behind your left shoulder and the salt is intended for his eyes. Inspector Sheehan and his team need more than inkhorns and an occasional pinch of salt to deal with the demons in this particular case.

Another one for connoisseurs of the genre, especially those willing at least for a while to see the world and our existence in it through the eyes of those who believe that the devil is an ever-present, supernatural force of evil only kept at bay through the power of Christ. A thoroughly enjoyable read.