The 8th Circle by Sarah Cain

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The Eighth Circle

We keep hearing that journalists are a dying breed. If that’s so then Danny Ryan must be the most endangered of them. He might seem a strange choice – after all, this guy won the Pulitzer Prize and has his face emblazoned on buses all around his home patch of Philadelphia.

But that was then. Today Danny is a broken man, still reeling from the deaths of his wife and young son in a car crash. The double tragedy has broken his spirit and turned him into a virtual recluse, with only his faithful rescue hound Beowulf as companion. He doesn’t even return the calls when his old friend and work colleague Michael Cohen tries to get in touch. Perhaps that’s why Michael is sitting there dead, still in his car, teetering on the edge of Danny’s duck pond after crashing through the boundary fence.

Michael was shot, and the questions running through Danny’s befuddled brain are many. Who killed Michael? Why did they do it? And what possessed him to drive to Danny’s house when he could have gone to a hospital and saved himself? Looming largest of all is the conundrum of Michael’s dying word. What is ‘Inferno’ and why are people so afraid to talk about it?

Suddenly, Danny is at the heart of things again and there’s no way his reporter’s instincts will let him walk away. For the first time since Beth and Conor died, his life has some purpose, and for a man who had nothing left to live for, that’s quite a turnaround. But asking questions about the shadowy Inferno is a mighty risky business – and the more he digs, the murkier the discoveries.

There to help (or could that be hinder?) him are a pretty ill-assorted bunch. There are Michael’s parents, Andy and Linda Cohen, Chester County police detectives John Novell and Sean McFarland, and Kate Reid, a friend that Michael had never even mentioned to Danny. All seem keen to find out why the newspaper’s sometime restaurant critic has been offed and it certainly wasn’t over a bad review.

Danny’s home is trashed and a mysterious phone caller demands ‘the package’. Michael had nothing with him in the car when he died, and Danny is at a loss. He isn’t about to be put off the trail though – which proves a mighty costly mistake when he starts asking questions of the wrong people. Your emotions will be shredded before this book is out, believe me!

Sarah Cain has worked as a copywriter, speechwriter, and a scriptwriter and this is her debut novel. It is a dark, often violent thriller that digs deep into the dirty deeds of local politics. In Danny Ryan she has created a very believable character with a great back story.  He is handsome, dogged and tormented – both by the deaths of his wife and son and the tough upbringing meted out by his cop father and older siblings. All of these things play a role in a story which has demons lurking around every corner.

Having a reporter as the main protagonist (not that he ever gets much time to actually write anything) is a welcome detour from the cop/detective scenarios so well known to crime fiction fans and Philadelphia is also an interesting choice of setting. You may not know much about the place at the start, but the author’s descriptive style means you’ll feel like an honorary Philadelphian at the finish.

This is an accomplished first book which will keep you reading. The only criticism is that sometimes things seemed to fit together too easily, with far too many pesky coincidences in play. It is the first in a projected series of Danny Ryan novels and I certainly hope I’ll be meeting him again soon.

See all Headline Murder by Peter Bertram, The Dead Beat by Doug Johnstone and Cast Iron Men by Dominic Kearney.

Crooked Lane Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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