Written by Tom O Keenan — Sean Rooney is as much of a mess it’s possible for a person to be. That he’s not a corpse is a miracle in itself. He used to be a forensic profiler, but a life pursuing psychopathic killers took its toll and he quietly retired. Now he’s trying to drink himself into an early grave. But DCI Jacqueline Kaminski, an ex-flame of Rooney’s, isn’t willing to accept his disappearance from the investigative world.
When Kaminski is faced with a multiple murder on her patch in Glasgow she calls on Rooney’s expertise. A group of decapitated corpses have been discovered on a hillside, all members of the same family. An old woman has survived – just barely – and Kaminski wants Rooney to speak to her. But Rooney comes with extra baggage in the form of his mental issues. He has an inner voice which he communicates with in an effort to solve the crimes. As the continue to pile up Rooney notices a connection between them. The dead are accompanied by Latin words which, when put together, appear to form a message for the police.
But can Rooney and Kaminski decipher the clues before it’s too late?
This is a powerful, well written story that doesn’t shy away from facing some difficult issues. First and foremost is Rooney and his problems. He’s a total screw-up and drinks to excess. He loses whole days to hangovers. Keenan doesn’t shy away from portraying his alcoholism and the implications of his behavior. Rooney and Kaminski once had a fling, and again the author is willing to dig around in the wreckage that remains with them. But it is hard to like the characters in The Father – any of them. Their good points are few and far between. So why root for them, other than wanting to see the killer put away?
Throughout Rooney maintains a dialogue (often out loud) with his inner voice. This is interesting and unusual in itself, but unfortunately this leads to quite a lot of confusion and distraction, particularly in the early pages where the plot is settling down. Often there are three- or four-way discussions underway and it’s not always clear who’s speaking. The inner voice is set in italics, so at least that’s obvious, but it’s hard to tell when Rooney or Kaminski and their other colleagues are talking. It takes a lot of working out.
However, later these interjections dramatically reduce in frequency and it becomes more straightforward and easier to read. The inner voice eventually becomes an extra character who adds to, rather than distracts from, the flow. The narrative is all written in present tense. Theoretically this approach lends an element of pace, but for some reason it doesn’t feel right with this story.
It seems clear that the author has put heart and soul into writing and polishing this novel. Tom O Keenan is clearly talented – The Father was shortlisted for a CWA debut dagger which says something for his talent – but the narrative sometimes comes over as slightly tight, a little forced. It’s as though he’s trying a little too hard, under pressure to get the story perfect.
All in all The Father is a decent read, after a challenging start, from a promising and talented author.
McNidder & Grace
CFL Rating: 3 Stars