Prime suspects? The children of Lir


A new crime book based on Irish myths and legends shows that the two genres are natural bedfellows, writes DECLAN BURKE

STAR-CROSSED lovers on the lam. It could be Red and Mumsiein Geoffrey Homes’ Build My Gallows High;Doc and Carol in Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, maybe Bowie and Keechie in Edward Anderson’s Thieves Like Us, or any number of classic noir tales.

But Diarmuid and Grainne? Requiems for the Departed: Irish Crime, Irish Mythsis a compilation of contemporary short crime stories based on Irish myths and legends. “There are many parallels between contemporary crime tales and Irish mythology,” says Gerard Brennan, who is co-editor of the collection, along with Mike Stone.

“Consider one of the most powerful icons of crime fiction: the femme fatale. Seductive, irresistible and deadly . . . this description hangs well on the great queen and Irish war deity, Morrigan, who amongst her many adventures steals from the mighty Cúchulainn, offers him her love, and when spurned, engineers his death.”

The femme fatale is well represented in the collection, which contains stories based on Queen Maeve, the Selkie, the Banshee and Morrigan herself, along with tales based on the Salmon of Knowledge, the Children of Lír, Cúchulainn, and Tír na nÓg.The list of contributing authors includes Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, Arlene Hunt, Stuart Neville, Garbhan Downey and Sam Millar, among others.

“I’m attracted to this mythological era because in the heroic age of Irish mythology, everything a man said and did was significant,” says McKinty. “There was no small talk. Everyone knew thousand of lines of poetry and the word was just as significant as the weapons. A man’s words and his actions were inseparable.”

McKinty and McGilloway contribute versions of the Diarmuid and Grainne story, that universal myth of star-crossed lovers that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Homer’s Helen and Paris.

“Myths, stretching right back to ancient Greece, were just one way in which people tried to make sense of the world around them,” says McGilloway, “and all writers share that common goal. Mythology and crime writing are happy bedfellows. Myths tended to be a way for people to impose meaning on something which was beyond their understanding, or to reduce something which they feared to a level which they could comprehend and so remove the fear or make it manageable.

“Crime writing, likewise, imposes narrative and meaning on acts which, in reality, are often random and motiveless,” he says. “Both myth and crime fiction bring the big abstract issues down to earth and express them in terms which we can better understand by placing them in a narrative form.”

“The connection between crime fiction and Celtic mythology is very simple for me,” says Ken Bruen, a leading Irish crime writer, and whose latest title The Devildabbles in mythology. “There’s mystery, a good old-fashioned shiver and huge flights of imagination, rooted in a solid belief that such phenomena may well be a reflection of a deep seated yearning. Above all, they’re great entertainment.”

“Irish mythology is wrought with revenge tales, powerful dynasties built on deceit and good old-fashioned crimes of passion,” says Brennan. “The ancient myths contain subjects still examined in today’s crime fiction and as in the best crime fiction out there today, the lines between good and evil are often blurred. Tragic heroes, loveable rogues and charismatic con artists: they all have their parts to play in both crime fiction and Irish mythology.”

Requiems for the Departed: Irish Crime, Irish Myths(Morrigan Books) is published on June 1