Last January I was asked by my editors at Hachette to read through the Dunnigan series in advance of a relaunch of the books in a new edition. Were there any changes I might want to make, anything we had missed the first time out that might draw them together more inclusively as a unified series?
I was happy to go through the process of reading the four titles. While I had read some of After She Vanished at events from time to time since it was first published, I hadn’t read the whole thing in a long time, and the same went for the others. Why She Ran was written at breakneck speed over a summer in which I wrote four books, so I was surprised to find that it holds together really well and is a compelling end to the quadrilogy.
What I also learned, though, from re-reading the series, is how dark they are. Dunnigan’s world is at times very bleak indeed, and I hadn’t realised this at the time of writing. Don’t get me wrong – there is lots of humour and a lot of heart in the series, and I love the characters dearly. But when it goes dark in Dunnigan’s world, it goes funereally black.
I stand over it, though. The story I wanted to tell was always going to be one that didn’t shy away from the harsher aspects of criminality. I was also keen to show the real impact of violence on those forced to contend with it.
In the Dunnigan series, people die. People the reader will have come to care about. There is a cost to the journey David Dunnigan embarks upon. That was something I definitely wanted to show.
I wanted the risks my characters were facing to feel really daunting. Really scary.
Because I know from experience that dealing with extreme situations can be terrifying.
I wanted to reflect that.
And I still do. If you are going to deal with dangerous people, then you will be putting yourself in danger. It’s a simple, relatable fact.
As I was re-reading my first series of novels, I was also developing a new crime series for my new publishers, Bookouture. The mission statement I’d been given was very simple. My editors wanted a series set in the same world as the Dunnigan books, but with a different tone. These books were to be plot-driven, imaginative crime novels, with a fresh team of characters, but leaving room for some of the crew from the Dunnigan books to pop in and out if I felt it was necessary.
The Dunnigan books had each been written to be a little different from the one that went before: After She Vanished was really a character drama; When She Was Gone was an action novel; If She Returned was a horror/monster story; Why She Ran was a spy/espionage thriller.
I didn’t want to do that with this series. Of course, each book would bring something different to the table, but I also wanted the reader to feel they knew what they were going to get. I wanted the series to be a comfortable, familiar place to return to. I’ve always felt that about really great crime series: Robert B Parker, Lee Child, James Patterson – even Arthur Conan Doyle! When you pick up one of those books, you have a sense of what they journey within the pages will feel like.
And there was also a bit of genre mashing I wanted to try my hand at.
I was keen to blend a traditional crime series with the thematic interests of folk horror.
I have always loved the horror genre. It permits you to address a huge variety of ideas and concepts, many of them quite serious, but in fun and interesting ways. Folk horror encompasses the idea that history is a living part of our present. It plays around with the very landscapes we live in being alive and an active agent in our lives. It explores concepts of faith, of ecology, of identity.
All of which is very current and felt ripe for analysis in the context of a crime series.
Now I just needed to put my team together.
In the world of the books, the former Irish police commissioner has been dismissed in the wake of revelations of corruption at the end of the Dunnigan series, and the new one, Dawn Wilson, finds herself left with a series of cases requiring special skills if they are to be solved.
She turns to her old friend, Jessie Boyle, a criminal behaviourist, who has just left her post in the Violent Crimes Unit in London. Jessie is a talented profiler but has just lost someone close to her during a particularly tough case and is intent on leaving law enforcement. Dawn, however, has other plans, and compels Jessie to join her squad by calling in an old debt.
So Jessie is on board, but very begrudgingly.
The team also includes Seamus Keneally, a decorated young detective from the West of Ireland who has just been promoted out of uniform. Seamus is tough, direct and a believer in old-school legwork. And he is convinced he did not deserve the commendation that caused him to be moved up the ranks. So Seamus has something to prove.
The final member of the team is Terri Kehoe, an historian and genealogist, who has just helped the police solve a murder involving land rites and a contested will. Terri is a vulnerable young woman who grew up in care, and Jessie intially doesn’t take her seriously. Yet she quickly proves herself to be remarkably gifted when it comes to research and investigation.
The case is a challenging one – here’s the blurb for Boyle and Keneally Book 1- Dancing With the Dead:
On a cold night in October a pretty, blonde girl named Penny O’Dwyer is snatched from the quiet main street of a small, coastal town in the west of Ireland. No one saw anything, and a desperate search leads nowhere… Until her abductor sends a video declaring Penny only has ten days to live and a deadly countdown begins.
Criminal behaviourist Jessie Boyle hoped never to work a case in Ireland again. But when her career in London is cut short by a brutal tragedy, she returns to her homeland to grieve – only for her oldest friend to call in a long overdue debt. ‘Help us catch this monster and bring Penny home. We need you, Jessie.’
Throwing herself into the investigation, Jessie makes a chilling discovery: Penny wasn’t the first girl to be taken. As her team find more missing women, she becomes convinced that a serial killer has been hiding in plain sight for years. Nothing seems to tie the victims together, until Jessie realises that that each abduction site is linked to the old Irish myths she read as a child.
Time is running out for Penny, and Jessie’s only hope is to understand the killer’s twisted logic. But he is closer than she imagined… and Jessie is next in his sights. Will she risk everything to save an innocent life?
Jessie and the team find themselves mixed up in a case involving an ancient Ogham stone that seems to drive people mad. A gang war being played out in the Kerry mountains. A serial killer who claims to believe he is the latest incarnation of the Celtic version of the devil. And a victim who, the more they dig into her past, is anything but what she seems.
I can divulge that Book 2 (I’ll share the title and cover for it soon) is already complete, and brings Jessie, Seamus, Terri and Dawn to another remote but beautiful part of Ireland, and centres on a different piece of mythology.
I want to stress that every myth and piece of history I use in the series is completely real and authentic. I want my readers to fall in love with Ireland’s heritage as much as I want them to love the characters and the struggles they go through.
Dancing With the Dead is released on ebook on all platforms on September 3rd, and is also available in paperback.
I can’t wait for you to meet Jessie and the gang.