Black Irish: A Novel by Stephan TaltyBlack Irish: A Novel by Stephan Talty

Black Irish: A Novel

byStephan Talty

Hardcover | February 26, 2013

Pricing and Purchase Info


Earn 155 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store

Out of stock online

Not available in stores



In this explosive debut thriller by the author of Empire of Blue Water, a brilliant homicide detective returns home, where she confronts a city’s dark demons and her own past while pursuing a brutal serial killer on a vengeful rampage.

Absalom “Abbie” Kearney grew up an outsider in her own hometown. Even being the adopted daughter of a revered cop couldn’t keep Abbie’s troubled past from making her a misfit in the working-class Irish American enclave of South Buffalo. And now, despite a Harvard degree and a police detective’s badge, she still struggles to earn the respect and trust of those she’s sworn to protect. But all that may change, once the killing starts.

When Jimmy Ryan’s mangled corpse is found in a local church basement, this sadistic sacrilege sends a bone-deep chill through the winter-whipped city. It also seems to send a message—one that Abbie believes only the fiercely secretive citizens of the neighborhood known as “the County” understand. But in a town ruled by an old-world code of silence and secrecy, her search for answers is stonewalled at every turn, even by fellow cops. Only when Abbie finds a lead at the Gaelic Club, where war stories, gossip, and confidences flow as freely as the drink, do tongues begin to wag—with desperate warnings and dire threats. And when the killer’s mysterious calling card appears on her own doorstep, the hunt takes a shocking twist into her own family’s past. As the grisly murders and grim revelations multiply, Abbie wages a chilling battle of wits with a maniac who sees into her soul, and she swears to expose the County’s hidden history—one bloody body at a time.

With Black Irish, Stephen Talty stakes a place beside Jo Nesbø, John Sandford, and Tana French on the cutting edge of psychological crime thrillers.

Praise for Black Irish
“Abbie Kearney is one of the most intriguing new suspense protagonists in memory, and Black Irish marks the captivating start of a brilliant thriller series.”—Tess Gerritsen
“Luxuriantly cinematic . . . a compulsively readable crime thriller . . . Move over V. I. Warshawski; Buffalo gets its own crime novel heroine.”The Buffalo News
“A suspenseful debut novel with a circuitous plot . . . Black Irish is simply a riveting read.”Booklist (starred review)
“Talty shows his chops when recounting [Buffalo’s] Irish roots.”Kirkus Reviews
“Talty does a fine job portraying the cohesiveness of the Irish, their loyalty to one another, and their obsession with their history. . . . A memorable story of betrayal and vengeance.”Publishers Weekly
Stephan Talty is the author of the New York Times bestseller Empire of Blue Water, as well as Escape from the Land of Snows, The Illustrious Dead, and Mulatto America. Black Irish is his first novel.
Title:Black Irish: A NovelFormat:HardcoverProduct dimensions:336 pages, 9.5 × 6.3 × 1.27 inShipping dimensions:9.5 × 6.3 × 1.27 inPublished:February 26, 2013Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345538064

ISBN - 13:9780345538062


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Debut Novel In his debut novel in fiction writing Stephan Talty creates a story that will have the lead detective looking to the past to find the killer of today. Absalom “Abbie” Kearney is the adopted daughter of a revered cop, but that does not mean that Abbie ever fit in with her family or the neighbourhood growing up. But she always knew that she would follow in her father's footsteps and become a cop too. Now years later Abbie is a homicide detective and about to get a case that touches closes to home. A serial killer is on the loose in her old neighbourhood, the county (an Irish American part of Buffalo) but the neighbourhood isn't giving up the killer and all of Abbie's contacts run dry and she is stopped at every turn with lack of or misinformation. Soon Abbie too becomes the killer's focus but she swears she will track down the killer, even if it means wading through the bodies one at a time. I was really impressed with Tatly's debut novel, it was interesting, had mystery that was expertly interwoven that kept the reader wanting more. Additionally, there are some OMG moments within the book, that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat and your heart or stomach in your throat. So lets just say that Tatly knows how to mix the mystery and the thrills together. The serial killer was also very interesting within this book, his story, his disfigurement, I just felt like I wanted to know more and more about what drove him to kill and why these men were chosen. I was just very curious about his overall story (when it comes to light there was nothing too knew as to why, but the how he became what he was is where Tatly threw something new in the mix). I really found the history aspect interesting and well done by Talty. I cannot say how accurate the history part was, but all the connections seem to be there and for me I found out some interesting facts about Buffalo, Ireland and Canada, which is always nice. Additionally, Talty introduces this information in a way that it does not slow down the book at all and the information is spread out far enough that you do not feel like you are getting a history lesson, bravo Talty. I'm not 100% sure I fully understand Abby as a character, there are things about her past and even present that are kept secret from the reader and I hope that Talty explores more of her character in a future novel if he is going to pursue a series. I think part of the problem of not being able to get to know Abby better is that she does not really know herself, or who her parents really were and how she became adopted (and her father was never really a loving figure for her, she always felt like an outsider). This is information is key to forming some sort of self, and with Abby lacking this information (although some comes to light later in the novel) Abby herself is not quite whole, therefore, I feel the reader never gets a sense of who Abby is. I think my main concern or dislike within the book was Abby's use of sex in one scene in order to extract information, maybe Talty meant to show it as more than that for her, but it did not come across as so to me. I thought that that type of action or decision was beyond her character from what I was able to get from her. I'm not sure if Talty felt that he needed to have sex in the book and just decided to throw it in there, but I thought it was ill placed and not needed in the story at all, the information could have been obtained in a different way. I'm not sure if Talty is going to make a series around Abbie Kearney. As I feel like I didnt really get to know Abbie that well in the novel, and I am interested in a character I hope that he continues on with her. This book was a great first venture for Talty into fiction writing, I enjoyed the twist, turns and on the seat moments, but if this is meant to be a stand alone novel I think Talty needs to work on his overall character development. I think those who like serial killer based novels will enjoy Talty's novel with its fairly sophisticated interwoven plot. Enjoy!! Note: The crimes scenes are fairly descriptive and some readers may find them disturbing.
Date published: 2013-08-29

Read from the Book

Chapter OneDetective Absalom Kearney took the exit for the Skyway and the Ford nosed upward, climbing with the gray asphalt. Lake Erie was frozen over far below and to her right; to her left, Buffalo’s industrial waterfront slept as quiet and still as an oil painting. The factory smokestacks rode past, even with her windshield, but not a smudge of smoke drifted up from them. The waterfront was dead, slumbering for the past three decades. When Absalom used to ride along this part of the highway with her father twenty years before, she’d sometimes hear the smokestacks keen as the storm winds hit them.She rolled down the window. The smokestacks were silent. The squall hadn’t peaked yet.The crest of the road was ahead, only slate-­colored sky beyond. Three stories up, the Skyway was a ribbon of concrete spilled across the clouds. The wind shook the car with a guttering rattle. Abbie gripped the wheel harder.She felt the fear grow inside her again, blooming like a growing rose in a sped-­up film. She took the Skyway every time she had to go to South Buffalo instead of driving down the 90, where the highway hugged the earth all the way to the exit at Seneca Street, by the junkyard that seemed to hold the same hundred wrecked cars she’d seen there as a child. Abbie told herself she took the road above the lake because she wanted to face the thing that terrified her. Which was what, exactly?White tendrils of snow skimmed ahead of her Ford Crown Vic, pushed by the wind. The front edge of the storm was blowing in, spinning a spiderweb of frozen lace on the asphalt. Her eyes followed them as the road rose. Endlessly intricate patterns, hypnotic to watch them form and break, form and break.There were no cars up ahead, not a single red brake light in the tall, rippling curtains of snow. The empty highway made her think that if she moved the wheel just two inches to the right she would put the car into the railing. A lull, the bang of ice, and then water. Lake Erie in January was a freezing tomb. Death in fifteen minutes. She’d looked it up, whether to calm herself or scare herself she had no idea.She could almost hear the snow crystals scour the asphalt. They made a rough, hissing sound that grated on your eardrums. It was like the shushing of a dogsled heading into blankness, disappearing into the advancing storm . . .Abbie leaned and turned up the radio, which the last detective had tuned to a country station and which she hadn’t bothered to change. She found the University of Buffalo station playing some obscure eighties synth music.When she told her partner Z about how odd she felt driving Buffalo highways, he’d asked her why. She’d brushed it off then, but now she knew. It’s the emptiness. The enormous emptiness. Or the loneliness, that was it, the feeling of being alone in a place that should be filled with other people, cars full of families headed to the super­market, to the restaurant on the lake, to the hockey game. Buffalo had built miles of highways during the boom years, enough for a million people. The people that were going to come but didn’t. Why not? Where’d they disappear to? What happened to them?Now the gray roads splayed across the city, empty half the time. The local joke was the only way Buffalo would get a rush hour was if Toronto got hit by a nuclear bomb and panicked Canadians came pouring south. You could drive for twenty minutes at a time at three on a weekday afternoon and not see another car pass you. The highway system was a network of veins laid across a dead heart.But she couldn’t talk about those things, because eyes were already on her. She’d only been in Buffalo PD for a year. At thirty-­one, she was already on her second police job. If she messed this up like she did Miami . . .The radio crackled. “Detective Kearney, this is Dispatch. McDonough wants to know your ETA.”A missing persons case in the County. Must be a family with some connection to the Department, because the missing guy had only been gone since Monday. Just two days. And the officer on scene had called in to check on Abbie’s progress, making the family think their missing son or daughter was a priority. Usually, they would just ask the family if Danny or Maura preferred crystal meth or alcohol.She kept her eyes on the yellow line as she reached to pick up the handset. The radio was mounted far enough away to give legroom for a bigger person—­that is, one of the sprawling six-­foot men that the Department seemed to breed, not the average-­sized Abbie. Finally, she hooked the cord with a French-­polished fingernail and brought the handset up.“Kearney to Dispatch,” she said in a husky voice. “Twenty minutes.”“Ten-­four.”She descended down the back slope of the Skyway, the lake ­coming up on her right and then the raggedy little marina where her father had liked to fish in the spring. Next to it were the hulking grain elevators, massive concrete silos that, like all the old mills down along the waterfront, had been empty for decades. It used to be that ships filled with golden wheat from the West would come steaming into the harbor and unload their haul. The West grew it, and Buffalo milled it. Now the companies were bankrupt and kids with Irish pug noses and no concept of mortality fell to their deaths after breaking the silo locks and climbing up the inside on the rusty maintenance ladders. There wasn’t that much else to do in the County on a Saturday night.There’d been one just last week, a seventeen-­year-­old boy named Fenore who’d wanted to impress his porky girlfriend, who they found crying hysterically at the foot of the silo. Abbie had done one recovery and that was enough. The insides of the things smelled like rancid beer, and at the bottom, always the broken bodies.Abbie had begun to think of them as sarcophagi, twenty-­story vertical tombs facing out to the lake like some kind of postindustrial pyramids, the bones of the young inside. The whole city was entombed by the artifacts of its glory days.She jumped off at Tifft Street, grinding the front wheels into a left turn, and shot off through the nature preserve.Coming to South Buffalo was coming home, she guessed. But a little half-­Irish girl from outside the neighborhood could never have been at home here, even if she’d been adopted and raised by a legendary Irish cop, the great and terrible John Kearney. Certainly not a girl with an unknown father, who’d given her a shock of midnight-­black hair, what they called Black Irish in the County. And if that wasn’t enough, Harvard grads like Abbie were regarded as nothing less than two-­headed aliens.They called South Buffalo the Twenty-­Seventh County, or the County for short, a patch of Ireland in the wilds of America. Blacks need not apply; strangers, be on your way; and faggot, can you outrun a bullet? Back in high school, her neighbors the Sheehans hadn’t even let that poor redheaded kid John Connell come on their porch to pick up their daughter Moira for the freshman dance. Not because he was Italian or German or, God forbid, Puerto Rican, not because he was too poor or addicted to alcohol or sexually suspect or pockmarked by acne. No. It turned out his family was from the wrong part of Ireland, Abbie’s friends patiently explained to her afterward. The Connells were from Mayo and the Sheehans were pure Kilkenny. “D’ya get it now? He’s the wrong county; the Sheehans won’t have a Mayo boy on their doorstep.” Their faces shiny with concern, emphatic that she should understand the intricacies of Irish-­American dating.“Yep,” she’d told them. “I get it now.”Inside, she’d thought, Looks like I can forget about getting a date in high school. And she’d been right. Her raven-­black hair, which was only accentuated by her pale skin and sky-­blue eyes, her long-­dead drug-­addicted mother, and her unknown father had doomed her to a life as an outsider in the County, where ancestry was everything. She remembered the moment as the beginning of her disastrous romantic history, and probably her sharp tongue, too.That had been in the nineties. Things were different now, people said. There were even a few blacks and Latinos sprinkled among the County’s population, though you never seemed to see them walking the streets. Maybe they carpooled for safety and conversation.But some parts of the neighborhood never changed. The clannish logic. The hostility to outsiders. The secret, ancient warmth. The alcoholism.As her partner, Z, said whenever someone from this part of the city did something completely inexplicable or self-­destructive: “WATC.”“We are the County.”No other explanation necessary. Or possible.

Editorial Reviews

“Abbie Kearney is one of the most intriguing new suspense protagonists in memory, and Black Irish marks the captivating start of a brilliant thriller series.”—Tess Gerritsen   “Luxuriantly cinematic . . . a compulsively readable crime thriller . . . Move over V. I. Warshawski; Buffalo gets its own crime novel heroine.”—The Buffalo News   “A suspenseful debut novel with a circuitous plot . . . Black Irish is simply a riveting read.”—Booklist (starred review)   “Talty shows his chops when recounting [Buffalo’s] Irish roots.”—Kirkus Reviews   “Talty does a fine job portraying the cohesiveness of the Irish, their loyalty to one another, and their obsession with their history. . . . A memorable story of betrayal and vengeance.”—Publishers Weekly