The Therapy House review: A devastating testament on behalf of the victims
In Julie Parson’s thriller, the action proceeds inexorably to a complex, satisfying climax
Julie Parsons (left): “In the form of a gripping thriller, Parsons has given us an incendiary analysis of our history of violence in all its hypocrisy, vainglory and denial.”
The Therapy House
Julie Parsons was Irish Crime Fiction before there was Irish Crime Fiction. Before domestic suspense was a thing, before Girls had Gone on Trains or anywhere else, Parsons was writing intelligent, nuanced psychological thrillers under the spell of the two weird sisters of mystery, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell.
In 1998, the New York Times called Mary, Mary, “a first novel of astonishing emotional impact”. Five elegantly written, compulsively readable books were to follow, but it seems in recent years as if Parsons’s achievement has been somewhat overlooked. Her new novel is set fair to change that. Quite simply, if I read a better book this year, I will be astonished.
The Therapy House centres on two murders: in the present day, retired judge John Hegarty is beaten and shot dead; in the past, retired detective Michael McLaughlin’s Garda father was murdered by the IRA during a botched robbery.
Hegarty had a distinguished career at the bar and on the bench, and his brother’s funeral oration makes it clear where he should be placed: “in the pantheon of those who had lived and died for Ireland, the men who were executed in Kilmainham, shot during the Civil War, who died in Derry on Bloody Sunday”. Moreover, he was the son of Dan Hegarty, who fought alongside Michael Collins, subsequently chose the anti-Treaty side, then lived a long and, most importantly, prosperous life outside politics: “ . . . the real power was to be found in making money. No money in politics, he always said.”
Face to face
McLaughlin, in Italy on a private case, finally does what he’s been shying away from for years: he brings himself face to face with James Reynolds, his father’s murderer, who now runs the Shamrock Bar in the town of Bassano del Grappa. But he is incapable of taking the violent revenge he craves, and simply walks away, “tears of shame blinding his eyes”.
McLaughlin has moved into the house next door to Hegarty’s, and while he seeks some legal means of bringing his father’s killer to justice, he inevitably becomes embroiled in the developing murder investigation; when compromising photographs exposing the judge’s less than impeccable private life are offered for sale, Hegarty’s brother hires McLaughlin to contain the situation, thus involving him directly in the case.
At Judge Hegarty’s funeral – attended by ministers and TDs, by aides-de-camp and TV crews – McLaughlin confronts the two men he recognised in a photograph in the Shamrock Bar posing with Reynolds, the two men who have become icons of the “peace process”, and his rage and pain almost overwhelm him. “It’s not over for me, or for any of the other people they killed,” he tells the colleague who tries to talk him down. “I can’t accept it.”
Dún Laoghaire heatwave
Set against a vividly rendered Dún Laoghaire of crumbling old Victorian houses and smart seafront apartments, the action unfolds during a heatwave, proceeding inexorably and violently to a complex and immensely satisfying climax.
Along the way the narration is handed to characters who probably still think of Dún Laoghaire as Kingstown: 91-year-old Gwen Gibbon, who clings to life in a basement with “a chill which no amount of sun could banish”, but who still has enough sap in her to register with pleasure the smell of a young man; and the sinister Samuel Dudgeon, an antic skeleton swamped in the judge’s old coat who played a crucial role in his past.
The Therapy House was the name on the brass plate fixed to the wall beside McLaughlin’s front door; therapists and analysts had practised there for years. By the end of the book, McLaughlin has established the beginnings of a relationship with the one remaining psychologist. The metaphor is clear. In the form of a gripping thriller, Parsons has given us an incendiary analysis of our history of violence in all its hypocrisy, vainglory and denial.
“I wonder sometimes,” muses IRA killer James Reynolds. “What I will be remembered for? How will I be remembered? Who will remember me?” The national memory will continue to be disputed; The Therapy House is a devastating testament on behalf of the victims.
Declan Hughes is a novelist and playwright. He is currently Arts Council writer in residence at UCD