Top Ten Mysteries Set in Dublin

View of skyline of Dublin, Ireland from above.
View of skyline of Dublin, Ireland from above.

Dublin is a city of many words—of Nobel prize winners and pub storytellers, never short of a thing or two to say. From The Book of Kells, to the vignettes of James Joyce, to the banter of Roddy Doyle, Dublin’s literary heritage is long-established. But there’s a darker side to this city: a corrupt underbelly of money and power, a rich history of villains and anti-heroes. Here are some of my favorites:

The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes

This chilling historical thriller is based on true events that rocked Victorian Dublin. When a lackluster Trinity student becomes a police informant, it’s not long before he’s looking for scapegoats for his own crimes. Set among the taverns, tenements, and alleyways of 19th-century Dublin and courtrooms that dole out their own twisted justice, this is an engrossing and vivid portrait of a city as sinister and corrupt as its amoral protagonist.

Where They Lie by Claire Coughlan

In this mesmerizing debut, 1960s Dublin is a dark and silent character. Nicoletta Sarto is an ambitious young journalist, battling to make her name at the Irish Sentinel. When the remains of a missing actress are discovered, Nicoletta must confront the underworld of the abortion industry, as well as the long-buried secrets of her own past.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

From the queen of Dublin noir, this is a tense, atmospheric investigation into the murder of a family on one of Dublin’s ghost estates in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. It’s bleak and brutal and a searing indictment of a government that put the survival of its banks ahead of the welfare of its people.

Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Power

A whydunit more than a whodunit, this is a masterful exploration of the motivation and morals of a group of private-school teenagers. When Conor Harris is kicked to death by three of his peers, the Dublin establishment is forced to look beyond its veneer of respectability for answers. Inspired by real events, Bad Day in Blackrock is a scathing, yet tender glimpse of a section of Dublin society still getting used to its newfound Celtic Tiger wealth.

Ratlines by Stuart Neville

Another historical mystery, this one is set on the eve of JFK’s visit to Dublin in 1963, when a series of murders threatens to reveal Ireland’s shameful Nazi connections. Ratlines were escape routes for Nazis fleeing Germany and if word gets out that Ireland is still harboring one of Hitler’s right-hand men, tensions will escalate. A mix of real and fictional events and characters, Ratlines captures the political landscape of the time in a tense, immersive, and nuanced tale.

All Her Fault by Andrea Mara

Andrea Mara is a master of twisty domestic noir. In this psychological thriller, Marissa Irvine believes her young son is on a playdate with a school friend. When she arrives at the suburban Dublin home to collect him, she doesn’t recognize the mother and her son isn’t there. So begins every parent’s worst nightmare. This is a gripping page-turner that keeps asking the question, “What would you do?”

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard has a way of tapping into the zeitgeist and this thriller set in Dublin during Covid is no exception. Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket as lockdown measures are announced and decide to move in together for the duration. They tell nobody they are together so nobody knows when one of them is dead. A terrible accident or the perfect murder?

The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue

The Temple House Vanishing is a ghostly, gothic, and wonderfully atmospheric novel set in a run-down boarding school in 1990s Dublin. It centers around the relationship between scholarship student Louisa, the enigmatic Victoria, and their magnetic, bohemian teacher, Mr Lavelle. It’s a story of secrets and lies, love and obsession, and the consequences that last long into the future when Louisa and Mr Lavelle disappear.

A Thread of Violence by Mark O’Connell

This compelling exploration of the 1982 murders committed by Dublin socialite Malcolm Macarthur is both true crime and a fascinating dive into the mind of a convicted killer. After Macarthur was arrested at the then-Attorney General’s home, an event that almost brought down the government, he spent forty years in prison. On his release, O’Connell approached him in the street to talk about his life. The result is an insightful and unsettling study of a “highborn savage” so convinced of his own superiority that he will go to any lengths to blur the lines between truth and invention. As a bonus, The Book of Evidence by John Banville, shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize, is inspired by Macarthur’s story.

When We Were Silent by Fiona McPhillips

If I may be so bold… I’m rather fond of this one. In 1980s Dublin, outsider Lou Manson enrolls at the prestigious Highfield Manor to try and expose the school’s dark secret. However, she soon discovers that the Highfield elite will go to any lengths to protect their own reputation—even when the consequences are fatal. When We Were Silent is a propulsive and fiercely feminist exploration of power, corruption, and retribution.

Read more from Fiona McPhillips here.

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