FROM ITS VERY FIRST LINE, Cormac O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Black Water, reels us in – and there is no option other than to stay the course of this fast-paced tale, set in the underbelly of Dublin. The black water of the title refers to a stretch of the city’s Grand Canal, where locals war with the gangs that scoop up and spit out their youth. The twin gods of money and power are all the more attractive when you have neither, and 10-year-old protagonist Jig, who’s lost his beloved granda, and whose moral compass is awry, is perfect fodder for local crime boss Ghost and the gang he heads up, even with Shay, Jig’s football coach, tugging hard to keep him on the straight and narrow. But Ghost offers the possibility of a different life when Jig’s family situation seems hopeless.


He squirmed at the memory of his ma, blitzed off her tits on vodka and tablets and trying to make tea, swinging a boiled kettle. She tripped and spilled steaming water over his hand. He fucking roared the house down and lashed about the kitchen. He thought his bones were cracking. She smacked him one and told him to ‘give over’ and ‘stop his moaning’ over a drop of hot water. ‘No fucking way’ would she call an ambulance and have some ‘snooty staff’ at the hospital asking questions.”


But it’s not just Shay who wants to stop the gangs preying on kids like Jig. Young detective Tara Crowe is desperate for a chance to bring down Ghost and his crew, but every time she seems to get close, he’s one step ahead of her.

In Black Water, journalist O’Keeffe recreates Dublin’s underworld, informed by first-hand professional and personal knowledge. He gives us insight into the reasons why people turn to violence, crime and drugs. His skilful writing, sharp dialogue and tight plot, along with some beautifully measured characterisation give his cast of players authenticity. We’re on their side, rooting for Jig, wanting him to find a way through this shockingly brutal world, just as we want things for Shay to come right. But what are the odds they will?

This is a great debut – all the more so, when one considers that even among the stellar crime fiction that’s been published recently, Black Water stands out.

Read it and try not to weep – while we look forward to what the author does next.


Black Water by Cormac O’Keeffe  • 19 April 2018 • Black & White • Paperback • £12.99


Music to listen to while reading:Passenger‘, Iggy Pop; ‘Song to the Siren‘, This Mortal Coil;’Love will tear us apart‘, Joy Division.


Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of Black Water book blog tour. Thanks to Lina Langlee and the publisher, for supplying a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are our own. Quoted text p. 17 © Cormac O’Keeffe. Image © The Literary Shed 2018.


Also of interest:The Outer Circle – a tale of our times’; ‘Steve and FranDan’s awfully big adventure‘; ‘Leigh Russell’s Geraldine Steel – you just can’t keep a good woman down’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir’; ‘Finlay’s last stand – Matt Johnson’s End Game’; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; ‘Mallory an old-style hero – It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell’; ‘The long road – John Fairfax’s Summary Justice‘; ‘Nora Roberts’ Come Sundown – a tale of strong women’; How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten’; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday’.


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