"Old rock stars, young lovers, dead bodies." Intriguing? Sheila Connolly's latest County Cork mystery, An Early Wake, brings together all those fascinating elements, plus the music of Ireland. Every word expresses Connolly's love for Ireland and its heritage. If the music and magic of Ireland touches your soul, this is a mystery that will do the same.
In some ways, Maura Donovan is still reeling under the knowledge that she now owns Sullivan's Pub in Leap, a village in County Cork. But, she still feels like the American that everyone is watching to see what changes will happen in the neighborhood pub. It's not Maura that brings a change, though. While she's worrying how she's going to keep the money flowing after tourist season ends, a college student shows up with questions about Sullivan's past. To Maura's amazement, Tim says the pub was once a hotbed of music, where musicians would just show up, the crowds would follow, and the magic brought them all together. She's more surprised to have the story confirmed by Billy Sheahan, an old friend of Mick Sullivan's, who said Old Mick was a musician who drew them all to the small village.
And, then the magic happens. With no publicity, no Internet, the word about Sullivan's and the music spreads once again. When a legendary musician shows up, he attracts other musicians, and says he told someone, and word spread. The respectful crowds and performers showed up to perform in Sullivan's back room. And, Maura, without a drop of music in her soul, can't understand, but accepts it. At least she accepts it until the morning after the performance, when she finds a dead musician in Sullivan's backroom. And, now she's afraid she might have brought the music back while bringing crime to Leap.
Sheila Connolly's An Early Wake is marvelous. At times, this story brings goosebumps and tears, with the description of what amounts to a jam session, a stirring performance as Irish bards come together to honor the music, and later, a fellow musician. Connolly manages to bring the atmosphere and the feeling of those evenings to life.
But, she also brings her characters to life. Maura Donovan lives on those pages, along with interesting friends, young Mick, Billy, Bridget, Rose, and Sean. It's Maura, though, who is the most interesting, an American who grew up poor, working in Boston bars, struggling. Now, she's still finding her place in Leap. She's not the typical amateur sleuth. She's strong and quiet, calling the police, the gardai, when necessary. She is used to keeping her head down and minding her own business, but now she's learning as the owner of Sullivan's Pub she has a different role to play. And, she's behind the bar, so Maura's role as a sleuth is often to listen.
Connolly is a respectful author, respectful of Irish tradition, elders, the music. It sounds like a contradiction to talk of a murder mystery and respect, But Connolly successfully mixes those elements. The story and mystery are beautifully wrapped up in tradition and music, the spirit of Ireland, in An Early Wake.
Personal note - If Sheila Connolly ever decides to lead a tour to County Cork, she needs to let me know. I'm in!
Sheila Connolly's website is www.sheilaconnolly.com
An Early Wake by Sheila Connolly. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425252536 (paperback), 291p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.