Kilmoon (18 March 2014) by Lisa Alber

Kilmoon, A County Clare MysteryKilmoon, A County Clare Mystery by Lisa Alber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an arc from the author in exchange for an honest review. Here are my thoughts on Kilmoon, the debut novel in the County Clare mystery series by Lisa Alber.
Like good Irish whiskey, Kilmoon is an acquired taste. It is complex, subtle, with hidden depths, but it may not be for everyone.
Kilmoon tells the story of Merrit Chase, a troubled young woman who travels to Ireland to investigate her family roots after suffering through the protracted death of her stepfather in America. In Ireland, Merrit hopes to meet Liam, a famous matchmaker. Each year, Liam presides over a popular festival each year in which he is known to have almost a supernatural ability to pair up couples.
When Merrit arrives in the small village in County Clare which is Liam’s home, she encounters a cast of complex characters, many of whom hold secrets to her own mysterious past. As Merrit gets to know the people in the village, the gentle drunk Marcus, the hot-headed but loyal Kevin, the honorable but torn Garda officer Danny, and the opportunistic “Lonnie the lovely,” she becomes embroiled in a web of lost love, deceit, and murder.
That said, the plot of Kilmoon, while complex and well-written, is not the most memorable feature of the book. What really stood out to me was author Lisa Alber’s unique voice, and the way in which she captures an Irish sense of place. I was amazed to find that Lisa Alber is in fact an American who has traveled frequently to Ireland, as her writing would have led me to assume she was a native to that country.
That being said, as a US reader, I often found the dialogue between characters difficult to understand. Furthermore, I was surprised by the tone of the story; I had expected there to be more of an enchanting or alluring atmosphere in the small village in County Clare, but instead, I found myself repelled by the constant drinking and scatological references made by the characters.
I was surprised by how unappealing Merrit’s experiences in County Clare seemed. The location should have had all the elements of a gorgeous and mystical sense of place; there was the crumbling old church of Kilmoon, an annual matchmaking festival, and the location itself, a small community in a beautiful area near the west coast of Ireland. Yet somehow, the focus of the mystery remained mostly on slimy characters and broken relationships.
As a comparison, two other books I have read recently that I felt capture a sense of Ireland (albeit in a different way) were The Likeness by Tana French, and The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. In both of those novels, I was impressed by the way in which the dialogue gave me a strong sense of a uniquely Irish mentality, in a way which I felt went beyond stereotypes. In The Likeness, I wanted to live in the world that French created, while in The Spinning Heart, despite the struggles of the characters suffering in the post Celtic Tiger economy, I was able to relate to their frustration. However, for most of Kilmoon, I literally felt like the characters and their world-view made me less inclined to visit Ireland.
All that said, as the disparate threads of the story came together in the final chapters of the novel, I gained new respect for the way in which the author had injected some emotional depth into the mystery. I felt more compassion towards the characters as more of their pasts were revealed.
In the end, Kilmoon was absolutely not what I had expected. It was not sweet, not charming, not gentle, and definitely not a “cozy” mystery. It was also not a pure whodunit, and although I would say that it was character-based, it did not go deeply into the psychology of its characters. All that said, Kilmoon was never generic, and it was written with a distinctive and assured voice. I was genuinely surprised to find that this was the author’s debut novel.
I think there is no doubt that author Lisa Alber has talent. Kilmoon is a novel that will appeal to some readers, but not to everyone. I will be interested to see the insight and reactions that others have to this well-written, unique novel.

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