My thanks to Harper Collins UK for a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Long long ago, I used to watch (not regularly, but sometimes) the BBC comedy My Hero, about an alien superhero, Thermoman who lives on earth and is married to a nurse, Janet; when I noticed this book on NetGalley, it was the author, Ardal O’Hanlan who portrayed Thermoman/George Sunday in the series, that caused me to click, and then its description as a dark comedy in a small Irish town (though it did also say ‘violent’ which I was wary of) led me to want to give it a try.

Set in the fictional Irish town of Tullyanna, in the days after the Troubles, the story opens with the death by suicide of Dermot ‘Dove’ Connolly. Ten years previous to this, Dove’s girlfriend Sandra Mohan (only 16 at the time) had gone missing and was never seen again, and an article by a journalist Joanne McCollum pointed to him as responsible, ruining his reputation. Dove’s best friend Philip Sharkey, who was with him on the day, left town soon after and stayed away. But now with Dove’s suicide, Philip has returned, having received a somewhat cryptic message from Dove earlier that he may have uncovered what happened to Sandra. Back in town, he finds Dove left him a graphic novel he wrote and illustrated, and while initially he is puzzled and disinterested, he begins to realise that the book, about the adventures of a hero named Brouhaha is actually Dove’s way of leaving him clues to what he discovered (as also chastising him for his own actions).

Another person near obsessed with Sandra’s disappearance is Kevin Healy, the Garda who was in charge of her case at the time. Now no longer in the force, he continues to go over what he knows (often reciting facts and possibilities to his infant grandson, Paul), still wanting to work it out. With Dove’s death, Joanne who by now realises she may have been mistaken in blaming Dove is also back in Tullyanna, with more or less the same objectives. But while secrets begin to be revealed and ‘new’ facts uncovered, raking up the past is neither easy, nor advisable, especially when there are less than savoury characters involved; one of these is Fergal Coleman, once the local ‘bad boy’ into drugs and much else, now an aspiring politician, still surrounded and supported by his old gang. Amidst this, do they manage to uncover the truth? And at what price?

Brouhaha certainly made for an interesting reading experience—it is a slower moving (but cleverly done) book, and written in a style that (like other reviewers too have mentioned) took me a while to get into. In my case, until the first 20 per cent or so, I was reading on—not uninterested but also not gripped. But once I did settle into the style and more so, the story (especially the puzzle of what actually happened to Sandra) began to move forward, I started to get more absorbed and really began to want to read on.

We have a very flawed but all the same complex and (as a result) intriguing set of characters; there’s Dove himself who we get to know through memories or the graphic novel and other clues he leaves behind for Sharkey, and the mural he made for the town, poking fun at different elements; Philip Sharkey who has been in self imposed exile (for reasons we learn as the book goes on) but is now a little more confident of facing his fears and doing right by his friend (whom he has in more senses than one betrayed). Both are intelligent, well read, yet have gotten into their share of trouble and also face the consequences of the unsolved disappearance. But they are characters we do feel sympathy for.  Kevin Healy is a rather likeable character, but he too, has been through much, including a bout of mental trouble after having been shot when he was a Garda, and Sandra’s case continues to weigh on him, something he is determined to solve. Joanne has a genuine passion for journalism which is appreciable, yet she was my least favourite of the three, causing rather than resolving trouble (even after having done it once for Dove and realising she was wrong, she does it all over again). Alongside, O’Hanlan gives us a sense of a small border town in Ireland, where while the Troubles may have passed, shadows of it remain and continue to affect life; and also, of its people (the supporting or secondary characters are also distinctive and well drawn out).

The mystery behind Sandra’s disappearance was a thread that certainly kept me engaged. I enjoyed especially that Dove chose to supply the answers through a graphic novel (with hints that he knows only Sharkey would be able to pick up on), and these are not straightforward but clues to be picked up and pieced together which requires the latter’s intelligence and scientific bent (I almost wished we had some illustrations!)

There is a fair bit of violence and abuse in the book, and while not gratuitous (or horribly graphic), it is something I can usually do without. The solution to Sandra’s disappearance too is rather dark and disturbing, and left me feeling unsettled.

Overall, though, this was a book well worth reading with much that I enjoyed even if I didn’t get along with every element.


11 thoughts on “Book Review: Brouhaha by Ardal O’Hanlon

  1. Another intriguing title, Mallika, thank you. I never watched the O’Hanlan programme you mentioned but loved the original series that brought him to wider notice (‘Father Ted’, set in Ireland) and enjoyed him in a couple of recent series of ‘Death in Paradise’ (a cosy mystery series set in the Caribbean featuring denouements Poirot-style with all the suspects gathered together).

    He’s more canny than his personae in these series suggest so I’m not surprised he’s showing his range of talents. I’m always leery of novels sold on the basis of their author’s celebrity but often those in the creative arts have the transferable skills to make the leap.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t remember much of the series beyond the broad plot but it’s been years since i saw it–silly but fun.

      I haven’t seen Death in Paradise though i did notice the book/s it’s based on when i was shopping once, most likely last year. They seem like fun.

      While I wasn’t a fan of the violence even though he doesn’t get too graphic, and his writing style took me a bit to get into, it had many things cleverly done like the clues through the graphic novel, the mural that Dove has made and also various references.

      We had a multi talented actor here called I S Johar, (he also appeared in films in the west) who was also known for a witty column he wrote regularly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I S Johar is a new name for me so I’ll check him out, thanks. I’ve just been checking, the first Death in Paradise novel, A Meditation on Murder was published in 2015, four years after the TV series was created by the author Robert Thorogood. He’s now moved on to a new mystery series, the Marlow Murder Club – so a new author for you to explore as you’re a fan of crime fiction!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This probably isn’t for me as I don’t tend to read much in the way of recently-written crime novels, but the setting (around the time of the Troubles) does appeal. It might suit some of the subscription readers I look after, so I’m grateful for your thoughtful review, especially your comments about the darkness and violence – some readers would be fine with that while others prefer to steer clear!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was honestly the setting–small town Ireland and the Troubles that made me click on the book. He does balance out the darkness to an extent with humour but still the violence and the explanation for the crime were a bit hard for me to handle.


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