No Strangers Here, the first book in a new series by Carlene O’Connor, is a knockout. O’Connor’s Irish Village Mystery cozy series is also set in Ireland, but her newest tale is so steeped in setting and character, she’s pushed her writing to another level. Set in tiny Dingle in County Kerry, the book opens with the suicide—or murder—of one of the town’s leading citizens, a wealthy racehorse owner named Johnny O’Reilly. His body is found on the beach beside the words “Last Dance” spelled out in shiny black stones. This could refer to many things, but all the locals are familiar with his spectacular horse, Last Dance, who was killed shortly before he could run his first big race.
Inspector Cormac O’Brien is called in from Dublin to take on the case—and while his outsider status gives him some perspective, it also places him at a disadvantage, as there are many details of local connections and long-held attitudes that he is not familiar with. This insider/outsider (a mystery staple) is sure of one thing, however: He’s looking at a murder, not a suicide.
Into this situation comes the chaos of the Wilde family—Dimpna Wilde, a vet practicing in Dublin, hasn’t been home in years. But when her clinic is shut down because of debts left by her dead (and infamous) husband, she heads to Dingle, where she has a mountain of baggage to clear away. Her son, Ben, has never been to Dingle. She’s kept him away for a reason. Part of the baggage back home is her father, a vet suffering from dementia, which has begun to affect his practice, and her mother, who appears to have had a romance with the dead man.
When it turns out her father’s clinic is in crisis and she—and her dogs—need somewhere to stay, it seems natural that she move in and take over. Her veterinary skills are a part of the book and a part of her character, and O’Connor uses various animal situations to both advance her story and to deepen Dimpna’s character. They are memorable and make Dimpna both special and specific.
Dimpna’s trauma, based in her past, takes most of the book to unravel, and the interlocking fates of the O’Reilly and Wilde families take center stage as the investigation into O’Reilly’s death unfolds. No Strangers Here is both a procedural investigation novel with a wonderful and very human inspector at the helm, as well as a deep character study of Dimpna and a 360-degree view of the community of Dingle, warts and all.
There is beautiful writing here and the characters are rich and complicated, as is the well-told story behind the murder of Johnny O’Reilly—a mystery that is well set up and beautifully resolved. The setting of Dingle itself is also lovely and adds to the atmosphere of the novel. I loved the characters, especially Dimpna, and I cannot wait for another book in what I hope will be a very long-lived series.