The Priest. Gerard O'Donovan - Gerard O'Donovan

This book should come with a warning sticker: "Do not open if you want to get anything done today". It's the first of a series featuring Dublin Inspector Mike Mulcahy & is compulsive reading.

Mike has spent the last few years as part of a drug squad in Spain for Interpol. Now he's back in his home town working for the Garde once again. Through a series of events he gets seconded to Sex Crimes after the brutal assault of a teenage girl. He also rekindles his friendship with Siobhan Fallon, a determined reporter for the Sunday Herald.

Soon they're both swept up in the hunt for a deranged man who becomes known as "The Priest". He earned his nickname by chanting the Lord's Prayer while inflicting the victims' bodies with cross shaped burns. As the assaults continue, police feel the heat from an outraged city, fed in part by the sensational articles in Siobhan's paper. 

This is a book that sneaks up on you. It begins with more of a focus on Mike & his situation. Something happened in Spain & although the author drops tidbits throughout the book, we never do get the whole story. He's in limbo without a permanent posting at work & living in his parent's old house.

Through his eyes, we get to know Dublin. This is post Celtic Tiger & the brief shiny period of prosperity has given way to the tarnished reality of abandoned construction projects & rising unemployment. The atmospheric descriptions make it easy to picture, rendering the city a major character in the story. 

There is a central cast of well rounded characters. Some might seem familiar: the politic superintendent, the hardass female inspector, a surly DS nursing a grudge, the returning cop who's now an outsider. But they all come across as authentic thanks to the author's clean prose & taut dialogue.

The pacing is bang on. After the second attack, there is a subtle shift as the tension builds until you're turning the pages as fast as you can to reach the inevitable showdown. About halfway through, the identity of the Priest becomes evident but even that doesn't diminished the suspense. This is effortless reading, so smooth & evocative that you feel like you're walking the streets with Mike & his colleagues.

There are several subplots that flesh out the story & Mike's character. He's a likeable, intuitive & flawed. In darker moments, you sense his regret for past mistakes & frustration over his current situation. He may not always play by the rules but he's a guy you'd want at your back.

Smart, scary, gripping...they all apply. And now, since I spent the day reading & no magic elves came to do the laundry & dishes, I really have to go.