Law and holy orders

 

Crime fiction: Author biographies rarely contain much to excite the imagination, but Andrew Nugent's is a little more unusual than most. The former trial lawyer turned missionary turned Benedictine monk is currently prior of Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick and in The Four Courts Murder he has created an entertaining, if slightly old-fashioned, crime novel that draws on his previous career in its portrayal of the Dublin court system.

The detailed descriptions of chancery which open the story recall Bleak House, as does the book's depiction of the enclosed order of hearings and lawsuits, lawyers and settlements within.

However, that is where the comparison ends, as Nugent swiftly dispatches a High Court judge, Mr Justice Sidney Piggott, with an athletic and martial arts-influenced kick to the neck that is more Bruce Lee than Charles Dickens.

While today's crime novelists prefer detectives who are just as psychologically scarred as the murderers they are investigating, Nugent eschews this trend with the appearance of Insp Denis Lennon and Sgt Molly Power, a good- natured and stable pairing, who are created more from the Tommy and Tuppence mould than any other. Whether this light-hearted approach will appeal to aficionados of contemporary police procedurals is debatable but it would take an iron will not to find oneself swept along by the pace at which the story is told.

Despite this, there are moments where it all becomes a little strained. Power, promoted to sergeant at the age of 26, should be tougher than she is, but time and again she is patronised by older male colleagues and antagonists and seems unperturbed by it; one suspects that someone in her position would be less willing to make tea and sandwiches and be called "good girl" than she is.

Fortunately, there are more realistic characters to counter this: a conversation between the detectives and the judge's widow concerning his vicious treatment of their son is compelling, and the scene hints at wider, more serious issues that bubble beneath the novel's surface.

As the story develops - with art frauds and crazy Europeans aplenty - the detectives have more than a little luck on their side as they solve the crime, and while the identity of the killer is predictable, the resolution of the story isn't and leaves one feeling satisfied with the remaining twists and turns along the way. Fr Nugent clearly hopes to bring Lennon and Power back for more adventures in the future and I hope he does so with equally original murders. His fellow monks at Glenstal Abbey must be wondering what he's dreaming up during those long, quiet evenings.

John Boyne's novel, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, is being made into a film by Disney

The Four Courts Murder By Andrew Nugent Hodder Headline Ireland, 278pp. £10.99