Where They Lie

Written by Claire Coughlan
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

Dublin, 1968: in the news room of a city newspaper on a slow night near Christmas, the conversation amongst reporters turns to a convicted murderess who died in an asylum, and her possible link to the still-unexplained disappearance of an actress twenty years earlier. Then a skeleton turns up, identifiable by an engraved wedding ring. But when Nicoletta Sarto, the only woman on the reporting team, investigates, she finds that the dead woman’s spider web of connections enmesh even her own family. Then another body is found, this time of an infant, and the respectable façade of a prominent Dublin business family starts to crumble.

This novel is also a portrait of an Ireland long before the Celtic Tiger years, where divorce is not an option; where abortion is proscribed but is nevertheless achieved, often with horrific consequences; where a finding of insanity is a convenient way of keeping secrets – an Ireland, too, where the respected obstetrician Éamon de Valera Jnr passed illegitimate babies to childless couples with impunity. ‘Where They Lie’ could not be bettered as a title; it refers not just to the garden of the well-heeled family where the corpses are found, but also the number of people, including those closest to Nicoletta herself, who have told untruths or turned a blind eye for years. Coughlan’s debut novel is admirably crafted, full of minutely-observed details that put it firmly in its historical era, and has a satisfyingly Grand Guignol ending.