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REVIEWS

John Cleal

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history.

Sean Rooney, an alcoholic and mentally-disturbed former forensic profiler, is dragged out of retirement by his DCI ex-wife to help her solve the gruesome murders of a whole family.

Tom O Keenan packs an awful lot into his debut, an odd hybrid of procedural, the darkest of Scottish noir, political thriller, black comedy and bad B action movie which launches a series featuring the alcoholic and mentally ill former forensic profiler Sean Rooney. In fact, if anything he’s overdone it.

Rooney spends much of his time in internal conversations with a voice in his head, which at times takes over the narrative like some demented Greek chorus. This better self or conscience is meant to illustrate his continuing problems, but actually provides most of the humour in this introspective and deeply noir tale. No one can doubt Keenan’s authority when describing Rooney’s mental state. Years as a social worker preparing pre-sentencing reports for the Sheriff Court are reflected in his creation’s pathetic lifestyle.

From abused childhood to a glittering career that crashed in spectacular fashion to a sordid existence of drinking himself unconscious, waking in his own vomit and having soiled himself, then setting out to do it all over again is hardly the life of a hero. And that is one of the problems with the book. Not one of the characters is even vaguely likeable.

His ex-wife, DCI Jackie Kaminski, driven by an almost psychotic desire to be better than her chief constable father which leads her to disregard basic police procedures and even the law itself, is irritating and annoying. The politicians are corrupt, manipulative stereotypes; the gangsters so appallingly disgusting even Hollywood couldn’t have invented them. And the controlling and manipulative genius, a sort of McMoriarty, working off his resentment of his parents by organising increasingly large-scale killings by proxy, while sending out cryptic Latin quotations, indulging in ancestor worship and taking revenge for two centuries old land clearances, just doesn’t ring true. Nor did the setting. We know Glasgow’s tough, but this fractured, ultra-violent coliseum of death made Mogadishu look like Cheltenham on a quiet Sunday.

Rooney is dragged into the gruesome murders of a councillor and her family by Jackie and from there the story escalates through a disjointed series of improbable events which at one point sees the SAS employed as a near-private hit squad by a corrupt council leader. Despite the many killings, the reader knows who the instigator is halfway through the story, which begs the question why is he allowed to carry on?

But despite the questions and criticisms, this is a dark, disturbing and compelling exposition of the problems of mental illness and alcoholism, written with a hard edge that will keep you riveted to the page.

Pete H

Dark and powerful

I have to confess to reading this book in excellent circumstances, in the beautiful guest house run by the author and his wife on the west coast of Scotland.
I was completely shocked and immersed in this very dark and powerful tartan noir first novel from a man with rich experience and qualifications for telling this tale. A week later and I still feel hungover from Rooney's descent into drunken hell. The psychological convolution add to the paranoia of seriously damaged characters.
I'm glad to have surfaced for air but can't wait to dive into the next instalment

David Hardy

Outstanding

This book blew me away. An outstanding and unique piece of crime writing. Very dark & deep, but so much dark humour. Sean is a troubled man. Alcohol dependency, and suffering from mental illness. But there is no stopping the guy. Genius writing, and looking forward to more!!

charlie1

"Brilliant"

Really loved this book by Tom O.Keenan. Found the beginning a little challenging at first but persevered and boy was that worthwhile! Loved the portrayal of the central characters DCI Jacqueline Kaminski and her ex husband Sean Rooney and their differing approaches to solving the intriguing crimes contained in this story. A huge amount of research and hard work has been put in to this novel. I highly recommend " The Father". Looking forward to the second book in the series.

John Houston

Must read

Loved the book although had to read through twice to get it. My employment background is similar to the authors so maybe that's why it resonated strongly with me. Looking forward to the next book but publisher please slightly larger typeface 

Howard Page

Great thriller - couldn't put the book down til the very end.

Once I got into the book I couldn't put it down. Having lived in Arrochar for a period I know all the places in the book and this made it all the more real. A great thriller with a dark undertone which kept me enthralled up the the very end. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes crime thrillers, especially if you know the streets of Glasgow or the hills of Arrochar. Looking forward veryu much to reading the next book featuring Sean Rooney.

K. Nixon

Good debut

Sean Rooney is as much of a mess it’s possible for a person to be. That he’s not a corpse is a miracle in itself. He used to be a forensic profiler, but a life pursuing psychopathic killers took its toll and he quietly retired. Now he’s trying to drink himself into an early grave. But DCI Jacqueline Kaminski, an ex-flame of Rooney’s, isn’t willing to accept his disappearance from the investigative world.

When Kaminski is faced with a multiple murder on her patch in Glasgow she calls on Rooney’s expertise. A group of decapitated corpses have been discovered on a hillside, all members of the same family. An old woman has survived – just barely – and Kaminski wants Rooney to speak to her. But Rooney comes with extra baggage in the form of his mental issues. He has an inner voice which he communicates with in an effort to solve the crimes. As the continue to pile up Rooney notices a connection between them. The dead are accompanied by Latin words which, when put together, appear to form a message for the police.

But can Rooney and Kaminski decipher the clues before it’s too late?

This is a powerful, well written story that doesn’t shy away from facing some difficult issues. First and foremost is Rooney and his problems. He’s a total screw-up and drinks to excess. He loses whole days to hangovers. Keenan doesn’t shy away from portraying his alcoholism and the implications of his behavior. Rooney and Kaminski once had a fling, and again the author is willing to dig around in the wreckage that remains with them. But it is hard to like the characters in The Father – any of them. Their good points are few and far between. So why root for them, other than wanting to see the killer put away?

Throughout Rooney maintains a dialogue (often out loud) with his inner voice. This is interesting and unusual in itself, but unfortunately this leads to quite a lot of confusion and distraction, particularly in the early pages where the plot is settling down. Often there are three- or four-way discussions underway and it’s not always clear who’s speaking. The inner voice is set in italics, so at least that’s obvious, but it’s hard to tell when Rooney or Kaminski and their other colleagues are talking. It takes a lot of working out.

However, later these interjections dramatically reduce in frequency and it becomes more straightforward and easier to read. The inner voice eventually becomes an extra character who adds to, rather than distracts from, the flow. The narrative is all written in present tense. Theoretically this approach lends an element of pace, but for some reason it doesn’t feel right with this story.

It seems clear that the author has put heart and soul into writing and polishing this novel. Tom O Keenan is clearly talented – The Father was shortlisted for a CWA debut dagger which says something for his talent – but the narrative sometimes comes over as slightly tight, a little forced. It’s as though he’s trying a little too hard, under pressure to get the story perfect.

All in all The Father is a decent read, after a challenging start, from a promising and talented writer.

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover