In a fictional town outside of Dublin, the body of a 13-year-old girl is found atop an ancient ruin in the middle of a forest.
What happened to Katy Devlin? And does her murder have any connection to the still-unexplained disappearance of two children in the very same woods, nearly two decades prior?
Dublin Murders, a riveting new show premiering on Starz Sunday, November 10, shuttles between two timelines to to tell the story of three highly unusual cases. These are the kind of stories that, if covered by a newspaper, would instantly go viral. No wonder Police Superintendent O’Kelly (Conleth Hill) is so wary of the journalists swarming the scene of the crime — the story of Knocknaree’s missing children is classic tabloid fodder.
So: Are these stories true?
Not quite. The stories of Dublin Murders are something better: They’re the product of crime fiction virtuoso Tana French’s imagination. French, the so-called “Queen of Irish Crime Fiction,” is best known for her Dublin Murder Squad series, each of which follows a different detective in Dublin’s elite detective force.
Dublin Murders weaves together the series’ first two books, In the Woods (2007) and The Likeness (2008). While pursuing answers, partners Rob Reilly (Killian Scott) and Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene) are forced to reckon with their pasts – and grapple with the intense chemistry that binds them together in ways that aren’t always workplace appropriate.
French’s books are characterized by their rich language, sentences so poetic that a crime scene is rendered a work of gruesome art. Her narrators — Rob in In the Woods and Cassie in The Likeness — are so psychologically complete it seems French channeled them, more than created them out of thin air.
But that’s exactly what French does with her novels: Conjure them up completely. In an in-depth interview with Book Reporter back in 2007, French went into detail about her writing process.
“When I start on a book, I don’t know where it’s going to end up; I have a narrator, the kernel of a premise, an awful lot of coffee, and that’s it. Then I dive in and figure out the rest as I go along,” French said. French doesn’t even use an outline – so the killer in In the Woods was a surprise to her, too.
French is a creative thinker. What French does not do, therefore, is pull from the headlines. Still, after living in Dublin for most of her life (French was raised in the U.S., Italy, Malawi, and Ireland), her novels are inevitably inspired by the country’s politics.
Take the ancient architectural site in Dublin Murders as a perfect example. The site will soon be torn down to make room for a highway. While this specific instance is fictional, the phenomenon is all too real.
“Knocknaree isn’t based on any specific place; it’s based on dozens of crucial parts of Ireland’s heritage, many of them now buried under tons of concrete, many more in imminent danger, and all for no good reason,” French said.
Further, French clears up that Rob, Cassie, and the rest of the characters are not based on her or anyone she knows.
So Dublin Murders may not be true — but it’s accurate. Both French’s books and the resulting TV adaptation have the same cultural specificity. When it comes to Dublin, French “[knows] the connotations of every neighbourhood and every accent, the slang, the shortcuts, where to get a good pint, where not to walk after dark.” Similarly, the show is quintessentially Irish. In a pop culture landscape where Scandi Noir reigns supreme, Dublin Murders is a welcome addition of Celtic Noir.