Set in a Border county against a backdrop of post-Troubles conflict resolution, and featuring suicide, alcoholism, neglect and abuse, Ardal O’Hanlon’s Brouhaha could very easily be mistaken for an Irish literary classic if it wasn’t so damned funny.
The story revolves around the apparent suicide of Dermot "Dove" Connolly, whose death galvanises the novel's three main characters: retired Garda detective Kevin Healy, Northern Chronicle journalist Joanne McCollum, and Dove's childhood friend Philip Sharkey, who returns home to the small town of Tullyanna from self-imposed exile to attend Dove's funeral, but can't help wondering if his friend's death is connected to the disappearance, some 15 years previously, of Dove's then girlfriend, Sandra Mohan.
But while Brouhaha functions as a murder-mystery – and a very good one at that – it's also an exercise in socio-political archaeology, as O'Hanlon sets his trio of offbeat investigators to work excavating the layers of history and silence that blanket the Border region. Looming over the story is "the Organisation", the paramilitary force that recently fought the British forces to a standstill in Northern Ireland, and is now, with an election due, a political juggernaut about to sweep into power. Not all of the party's members, alas, have devoted their efforts exclusively to the democratic process: "[Macker] could speak Spanish fluently. This accomplishment only came to light when he was arrested in Peru, of all places, a few years previously, where he was charged with training clueless second generation Shining Path guerrillas in the art of rocket launching and in urban terrorism techniques generally, a push on Lima long overdue, jungle living having become a pain in the hole."
The main players, meanwhile, are an absolute treat, wholly flawed characters rich in idiosyncrasies. The retired Garda detective Healy, for example, is ‘currently barred’ from the local church due to his occasional messianic outbursts; the hard-chaw Sharkey, for his part, has ‘learned the hard way that a soul, tormented, was exposed and sensitive, infinite in its capacity to absorb more pain.’ Perhaps the most important character in the novel, however, is Sandra Mohan, who is no mere victim, but a brilliantly rendered teenager who explodes into life every time she is invoked.
Funny, tragic and deliciously readable, Brouhaha confirms Ardal O’Hanlon as a novelist of the first rank.