The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes

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The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Based on the life and death of the real Victorian Dubliner John Delahunt, this is one bleak story. It's extremely well written and dripping with historical atmospherics and well-placed factoids but definitely bleak... in a good way.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Doubleday Ireland
ISBN: 978-1781620144

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As John Delahunt sits in a cell for the condemned writing an account of his life, we go through it with him. It all begins as he witnesses a fracas between his fellow students and the police after a visit to one of the fine hostelries Victorian Dublin has to offer. In this way John's brought to the attention of 'The Department', a pro-British intelligence unit based in the notorious Dublin Castle. John agrees to help them not realising this is never going to be an agreement he can back away from, no matter how hard he tries and no matter how much it costs him.

This is Andrew Hughes' debut novel and not exactly a bundle of laughs. However, for those willing to forego belly laughs, there's an excellent blend of period atmosphere and hypnotic story telling as we're drawn into the foreshortened life of a man who just needed another source of income to survive.

We meet John at the bottom of the slippery slope and watch with fascination as he invites us relive his slide from the top. Before our eyes he leaps from the pages making us realise he's more human than humane and more understandable than likeable.

It's easy to attribute his downfall to the era, especially in the light of the gaping chasm of poverty endemic throughout Queen Victoria's empire and the way in which the absent British government rules over it. This may go some way to explaining John's desperation but as time goes on and we see behind some of his less-well-thought-out solutions, we realise his decline may be, in part, attributable to his choices.

1840s Ireland is as much of a character in the novel as John is. Andrew likes historic detail and I for one am not complaining in the slightest. I was enthralled at the account of how body snatchers exhumed their prey to aid medical science. (No, in this case surprisingly not by digging the coffin up.) As for a wasp being the nickname for an infected prostitute (sting in the tail... get it?), I must admit to a smirk.

However the dark, rotting spine of the novel is The Department, weaving a web enveloping the whole city that few survive and even fewer escape. That's what makes this novel so dark and so bleak that at times I wondered if I could carry on reading. In the end it wasn't just my commitment to review that kept me going, but Andrew's writing and aptitude to fascinate and captivate, making it impossible to walk away without witnessing every little twist of the plausibly evil spiral.

The interesting thing is that there are facets of this novel that aren't restricted to the Victorian era. This isn't just the story of one man against a system which (rightly or wrongly) condemns him, but what happens to a society in the absence of justice, public interest and concern for welfare at the highest levels. As such, at any given moment somewhere in the world, it's timeless.

Thank you, Doubleday Ireland, for providing us with a copy for review.

Further reading: If this appeals then we also recommend Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood which again delves into the mores, justice and mindset of the Victorians.

Buy The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes at Amazon.com.

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