Catherine ryan howard

The ‘Canal Killer’ gets a copycat

Catherine Ryan Howard’s “The Liar’s Girl” has been nominated for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Page Turner / By Peter McDermott

Ali Smith, a 29-year-old from the Cork City area, has lived in the Netherlands this past 10 years. She’s never once returned to Ireland, but her parents visit and go on vacation with their only child often.

Then one Saturday morning after a Friday night work party at which the drink flowed, Ali’s past comes back with a vengeance. Two visitors from Dublin, where she spent a year in college, have found their way to her apartment in the city of Breda. They’re detectives bearing a request from her college boyfriend, Will Hurley, currently a resident in the Central Psychiatric Hospital.

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The charming law student confessed a decade ago to being the “Canal Killer” – so named because the five murder victims were dumped in the Grand Canal. Now an apparent copycat has killed two. The gardaí, Jerry Shaw and Michael Malone, tell Ali that when they sought an interview with him to get an insight into the new cases, Hurley said he would only talk to her. So reluctantly she agrees to fly back with them to Dublin.

“The Liar’s Girl” is one the six nominees for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Novel, given by the Mystery Writers of America (Dennis Lehane was named the winning novelist in 2013, while Stephen King won the accolade in 2015).

Publishers Weekly has called it an “exceptional thriller” in a starred review, adding that the writer “keeps the reader turning the pages right through to the shocking and satisfying resolution.” While Shelf Awareness said it’s a “sophisticated psychological thriller”; it continued: “The exploration of characters’ inner lives – their jealousy, guilt, misguided chivalry – is as riveting as the crime.”

Catherine Ryan Howard

Date of birth: July 5, 1982

Place of birth: Cork City

Residence: Dublin City

Published works: “Distress Signals” (2017), “The Liar’s Girl” (2018)

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I wish I had the discipline to have a routine, but essentially I watch Netflix until the guilt becomes all-consuming and then I make a cup of coffee and get to work.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don’t worry about anything except writing the best book you possibly can. Put 100 percent of your writing-related energy into that. Everything else – how to get an agent, how book deals work, finding out what paper Stephen King uses so you can use it too – is just a distraction. Worry about that stuff later.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“Postmortem” by Patricia Cornwell was probably my introduction to crime fiction (way too young – I read it at 11 or 12!) and ignited my lifelong passion for it. I’ll never forget the first time I read “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston, because I instantly decided I was going to become a Level 4 virologist and work at the United States Army Research Institute for Infectious Diseases – USAMRIID to its friends – even though I was totally squeamish, an Irish citizen and only 13 at the time. More recently, “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter blew me away – what a joy of a book. I’m jealous of those who haven’t read it because they’ll get to experience it for the first time. I recommend it to everyone.

What book are you currently reading?

“The Wych Elm” by Tana French.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

I went to university at the age of 32 to study English literature because I was worried that I only ever read “new” books and was therefore missing out. I wanted to read what had come before, but really struggled to engage with our set texts. However “New Grub Street” by George Gissing, published in 1891, really surprised me. I was amazed at how, despite massive technological advances, a lot of what it means to be a writer and to try to make a living as one hasn’t really changed in the last hundred or so years. Although I don’t know if that was a “pleasant” surprise…

What book changed your life?

Bear with me here, but I’d have to say “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton. When I first read it, age 11, I just couldn’t believe such an amazing story had just been made up from scratch by someone in their head. If that was a job, I wanted to have it. I’ve re-read it every year since and treasure my first edition – and now, thankfully, I do have that job!

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Ireland, of course, has a wealth of beautiful spots to choose from but I think there’s something special about the view over Killiney Bay that suddenly surprises you when you’re on the southbound DART. There’s not many commuter trains that offer such a spectacular vista, which can be utterly breathtaking on a sunny day. It’s fun during the summer riding trains packed with tourists on their way to Dalkey, Bray and Greystones – you can usually hear a gasp or two when the breath of the bay comes into view.

You're Irish if...

You have only one response to an offer of a cup of tea and that’s to vehemently refuse it at least twice, protesting that you’re grand, no really, thanks, only to finally – and inevitably – accept (which is what you wanted to do from the start, because actually you could really do with a nice cup of tea).