A bizarre road accident propels Celcius Daly into an investigation that could reveal the truth about his mother's death thirty years ago Father Aloysius Walsh spent the last years of his life painstakingly collecting evidence of a yearlong killing spree, unparalleled savagery that blighted Ireland's borderlands at the end of the 1970s. Pinned to his bedroom wall, a macabre map charts the grim territory of death—victims, weapons, wounds, dates—and somehow, amid the forest of pins and notes, he had discerned a pattern. . . . So why did Father Walsh deliberately drive through a cordon of policemen and off the road to his death? Why, when Inspector Celcius Daly arrives at the scene, does he find Special Branch already there? And why is Daly's mother’s name on the priest's map? The past poisons the present, and Daly’s life will never be the same again.Silence is the 3rd book in the Inspector Celcius Daly Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Anthony Quinn (b. 1971) is an Irish author and journalist. Born in Northern Ireland’s County Tyrone, Quinn majored in English at Queen’s University, Belfast. After college, he worked a number of odd jobs—social worker, organic gardener, yoga teacher—before finding work as a journalist. He has written short stories for years, winning critical acclaim and, twice, a place on the short list for the Hennessy Literary Awards for New Irish Writing. His book Disappeared was nominated for the Strand Critics Award for Best Debut Novel, and Kirkus Reviews named it to their list of 2012’s Top 10 Best Crime Novels. Quinn also placed as runner-up in a Sunday Times food writing competition. Silence is Quinn’s third novel featuring Inspector Celcius Daly. Quinn continues his work as a journalist, reporting on his home county for the Tyrone Times.
Read an Excerpt
An Inspector Celcius Daly Mystery
By Anthony Quinn
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2015 Anthony Quinn
All rights reserved.
Thoreau's line – the question is not what you look at, but what you see – was a favourite of Inspector Celcius Daly's, not just because it said something about detective work, but also because it described the way in which he and his fellow citizens were dealing with their country's conflicted past. Daly lived between two views of the Troubles, the one he saw with his eyes wide open and the one he saw with his eyes firmly shut. He had trusted the former over the latter ever since childhood, but every now and again the unruly brew of his subconscious, imagination or his dreaming threw up a suppressed memory or an old secret that threatened to disrupt the carefully edited view.
It had not taken much to set him off that wintry night at the start of February. He was preparing to go to bed when the call came through. He listened to the details: a single-vehicle car crash, a line of misplaced traffic cones and a dead motorist. A freak accident, he thought, the result of too much speed, alcohol or the driver falling asleep at the wheel.
He drove through Maghery and headed towards Dungannon. Soon he was on the new motorway. He took a deep breath and eased the car into top gear. There was a full moon and the empty carriageway stretched westwards towards the border, a vaulted path of tar and concrete bridges shining in the moonlight.
For decades, the Irish and British governments had neglected the border roads, allowing them to fall into ruin, but ever since the ceasefire, they had been at pains to reverse the decline. Gone were the checkpoints, the military fortifications, the sabotaged roads and blown-up bridges. New carriageways were replacing the meandering roads that had once made even a short trip along the disputed frontier feel like a trek through a labyrinth.
Inexorably, he thought, the crooked little lanes of my troubled country are disappearing. Soon there will be none of them left. Soon there will be no more getting lost on by-roads, no more skulking in shadowy places; soon there will be nothing left but straight roads with no hiding places.
He flicked his headlights on to full beam and accelerated, the lamps scouring the darkness ahead. Perhaps this was the freedom everyone had been fighting for during the Troubles, he thought, the freedom to drive all night, free and fearless, on wide roads without ever coming to the end of one's tether.
The motorway cut through a narrow valley, and Daly crossed a bridge. He glanced through his side window, and saw the old country below, felt its dark gravity, its mesh of forgotten roads, its interlocking parishes of grief and murder. He had spent the last seven years policing this part of Northern Ireland, and it was a relief to be carried on so many tonnes of concrete and steel above its shadows; everything below was crime and violence, age and death, loose bits of the past squirming their way through the darkness.
He had relaxed into a state approaching drowsiness when his car swayed a little, buffeted by crosswinds. The central reservation loomed closer. He was surprised to see how much his car had drifted across the lanes. He tapped his brakes and gripped the steering wheel. That was the problem with feeling afloat on such an elevated road, he thought: it made you forget your precariousness in this world.
The motorway cut deeper through the countryside as he approached the border, and the terrain grew rockier, bleaker. He slowed on reaching the final uncompleted section. Roadwork diversion signs redirected traffic on to side roads, but Daly ignored them. He held firm. Ahead, his headlights picked out the broad tract where diggers had been tearing a hole through the hills that formed the border with the Republic. His tyres rumbled over the uneven surface. He eased his car up the last hundred yards or so to where the tape of the police cordon fluttered amid the warning lights.
He stared through the windscreen, taking his measure of the scene. At first, all he could pick out beyond the signs and flickering lights were heaps of soil, denuded rock and digging machines, which, perched on the dark mounds of earth, seemed to float over the chaos. Then he saw the moving figures. Men and women in uniforms, walking about with flashlights.
He was back in border country.
'What happened?' Daly asked the young officer in charge of the crash site. It took him several moments to work out the sequence of events. The officer and his colleagues had arrived at the roadworks shortly before 10 p.m. to investigate a report of criminal damage to the diggers. They discovered that the vandals had also removed the diversion signs and rearranged the traffic cones into a lane that would have guided unsuspecting motorists straight over a precipice. Immediately, they had set up a cordon and checkpoint.
It was a dangerous prank, explained the officer, especially in the dark. He and his colleagues had been removing the cones when an elderly driver pulled up. For some inexplicable reason, he had ignored the police cordon and driven off at speed, almost knocking over one of the officers.
That was his first error, said the policeman. His second and fatal mistake had been to steer a path through the rearranged cones without once tapping his brakes.
'The poor bastard went over the edge into a thicket of thorns thirty feet below,' he added. 'He seemed to drive off in some sort of panic.'
Daly stared at the road swimming in a trickery of light and reflective signs. He saw the line of shining cones, and at their end the pool of darkness into which a car and a life had vanished. A fatal diversion masquerading as an escape route. Road accidents were usually a combination of bad luck and stupidity, but what had made the elderly man disdain the advice of law and order?
'I wonder what frightened him so badly?' he asked the officer, scrutinizing his young face.
'I don't know. A guilty conscience?' The officer shrugged. 'Did I mention he was a priest? A Roman Catholic priest. He was wearing a dog collar. According to our records, his name was Father Aloysius Walsh.'
Daly raised an eyebrow. The worst, the blackest reading of the driver's actions was that he had a secret to hide and feared arrest. It was the simplest explanation for his behaviour, but Daly suspected that given the history of this part of the country, and the fact that the dead man had been a cleric, the truth might turn out to be a little more complicated.
Daly took the officer through his conversation with Walsh. Perhaps he had let slip a word that had agitated him. Doubtless a priest of his age had seen and witnessed a lot, especially during the Troubles. In addition, the media were hounding many elderly priests over their handling of clerical child-abuse cases. God only knew what was going through his mind when he saw the police cordon in the darkness.
The officer stitched together the sequence of events, and the words he had spoken, but Daly failed to detect any hint of menace in them.
'I just warned him the road was blocked and a diversion in place,' he said.
'What were you doing while you spoke?'
'Warming my hands. It was a cold night.' There was something appealing about his honesty and the patience with which he answered Daly's questions. 'He gave me a strange look. As though he recognized me. But I'd never seen him before.'
'And your colleagues. What were they doing?'
'They were repositioning the traffic cones.'
Daly glanced at the men, who were dressed in blue overalls and standing by the side of the road, more like a huddle of suspects than investigating officers.
'Why aren't they in uniform?' he asked.
'We'd just come from an illegal fuel plant. They hadn't time to change out of their protective gear.'
Daly nagged him with more questions. Was there a car following the priest? Did he seem anxious from the start or only after the officer started speaking? Was he in a hurry, anxious to be on his way? Did he seem a stranger to the area, unsure of his surroundings?
The officer answered the questions as best he could.
'Are you going to check the car itself, sir?' he asked helpfully.
Daly, however, was unwilling to let the subject drop.
'Did you smell any alcohol on his breath? Any sign of drugs? Was his car the first you stopped? What about the vandals, any leads there?'
However, none of the policeman's answers provided a satisfactory explanation for his priest's actions. Daly could detect nothing that might have made Walsh feel pressured or threatened, frightened or worried, certainly not desperate enough to break a police cordon.
'Perhaps he was depressed,' suggested the officer.
'Depressed people don't behave that rashly,' said Daly. 'Their illness makes them averse to risk or spur-of-the-moment behaviour. If they commit suicide it's usually planned meticulously.'
Daly bent under the cordon and walked towards the traffic cones. The flash of a camera lit up the scene. A police photographer stood to the side, attempting to capture the confusion with his lens. Daly frowned. He turned back to the group of officers in blue overalls. He thought he detected a look of wariness in their faces. He strode on. The warning lights thronged the sides of his vision, hemming him in. The police officers emitted their signals, too, their defensive stance, their eyes shadowed, another set of potential pitfalls to be ignored by motorists at their peril.
For a moment, Daly felt as though he was standing outside of time, in a zone without road markings or warning lights, a no man's land, with only dim memories of the past to guide him. He felt a change in his body chemistry. His heart rate increased to a painfully fast tempo, and a line of sweat formed on his forehead. Teetering on the edge of panic, he glanced at his watch, more in an effort to ground himself than to check the time. The police officers stared at him, their faces watchful, curious. He saw himself through their eyes. A middle-aged detective, greying, haunted by the darkness of an unfinished road.
He was at a loss to explain why, but he suddenly found himself running along the route marked by the traffic cones. If he had been in his car, he might have accelerated just as the dead priest had done. But why? What had triggered this feeling of incipient doom? He was forty-three years old, and had spent almost half his life unravelling crime scenes more confused and gruesome than the one he now found himself in, but something about it troubled him deeply. His eyes swivelled as he ran, taking in the innocent-seeming details of the roadblock, the four policemen, three of them in overalls, the row of traffic cones pointing towards death. What was it about them that seemed to speak darkly of a mystery in his country's troubled past? He felt as though he was hurrying towards something that no one had approached for decades. A lost secret. A crashed car at the edge of the Irish border and a dead body.
Daly saw the tyre markings cutting through the grass, and down below the glinting boot lid of the wrecked car, tilted at an unnatural angle. He fastened on to it with the intensity of someone who'd witnessed this before, in circumstances that had been both unexpected and emotionally overwhelming. Relief flooded through him when he made out the rest of the car in the beam of the flashlight – a silver Audi with long scrape marks along its sides – as if he had been anticipating another car, another body. The panic subsided completely by the time he had scrambled down the bank and peered in through the driver's broken window. He saw pieces of broken glass on the leather upholstery, but no sign of the priest's body. The force of the impact must have propelled him through the smashed windscreen.
He plunged further into the thicket, head bowed, arms fending off branches, and came across the body in a small clearing padded with moss and old leaves. Daly leaned closer with his torch, the thorns bristling around his face. The rain had webbed the dead man's hair to his scalp, the pattern of slick strands resembling roads criss-crossing a map. Apart from scratches and grazes, there was very little sign of blood on his downturned face, which wore a tired expression, or on the rest of his body, sprawled and helpless-looking, his legs sticking out like crooked piping. He looked unhappy to have ended up like this, a grisly spectacle of motoring misdirection.
However, the most poignant element of the scene lay in the strange object the dead man gripped in his right hand. Daly narrowed the beam on to the stiffened fingers, which were wrapped around an untidy braid of children's rosary beads and holy medals, strands of charms tied up with wisps of broken string. He stared at this twisted pigtail of religious effects and wondered what significance they had held for the dead priest. Did they represent a cry for spiritual assistance, or something more sinister? Some of the beads had rusted over, suggesting their original owners had long ago abandoned them. Did they hold the clue to the mental flux that had set the priest on his final journey?
The more Daly looked at the strange bundle, the more it spoke to him of something more personal: his own religion. Although he was an infrequent Mass-goer, the rituals and imagery of Catholicism were still firmly planted in his memory, lodged there like an entangled obstruction, resistant to all the turmoil he had undergone in the intervening years. He didn't like to think of himself as a lapsed Catholic, rather that the course of his life had taken him to the margins of his faith. He still felt the soothing power of the Church's symbols, the rosary beads and the miraculous medals, and he worried that if he removed them completely from his life, he might find himself pulled down a tapering funnel into a deeper darkness. Worse than that, he feared the horrors that might emerge from the depths of his subconscious if he were to clear away the obstruction.
He wondered what the priest had seen amid those dishevelled strings and beads. He knew enough of the human condition to understand that for a priest, the life of selfless dedication to God could prove a very troubled sea. Even the holiest of men might find themselves occasionally flung upon a strange shore, battered and lost.
A branch cracked nearby. Daly pulled himself away from the corpse. Perhaps the bundle meant nothing to the investigation. Perhaps it had more relevance to his own spiritual life, or lack of one. He made his way back to the crash site and saw the figure of a man in plain clothes standing to the side of the car.
At first, Daly could not see who it was, since he kept his head turned away. An unmoving shadow concentrating on something in the darkness. Daly shone his torch on to the back of his head and the man turned round. His eyes blinked in the light. It was Detective Derek Irwin from Special Branch.
'Lost in thought?' asked Daly, his voice sounding more annoyed than he intended.
'No, just checking my messages.' Irwin flashed his mobile phone. He ignored Daly and stared at the device, his thumb stroking the screen in an obstinate way, as though he were trying to get rid of an annoying wrinkle. Ever since he'd been recruited by Special Branch, Irwin had developed the unpleasant habit of hovering at the edge of Daly's investigations, and behaving in wilful ignorance of correct police procedures. It constantly perplexed Daly how Irwin managed to maintain, let alone advance, his career in the special investigations unit.
'Special Branch quiet these days?' asked Daly.
'Not really.' As Irwin spoke his phone peep-peeped and died. He juggled the device and slid it back into his pocket.
'Then why are you attending a road fatality? Did Fealty send you here?' Fealty was Head of Special Branch, and a different animal entirely from Irwin, leaner and more professional with a razor-blade smile and an icy stare. Daly's career had survived several run-ins with him.
'I heard the call come through from switchboard.' Irwin yawned. 'I thought it might be worth a look.'
'Hell of an evening to come out for just a look.'
Daly glanced grimly at the thorn trees, the river coiling below, and began to fear that there might be an element of design in the way the priest had met his end.
'I've an interest in practical jokes.' Irwin smirked. He kicked the door of the car, sending a shower of glass fragments to the ground. 'Given the state of the Catholic Church these days, who knows what sort of pervert we're dealing with?'
Irwin's discourtesy to the dead man indicated a presumption about his past that Daly felt was unprofessional, if not a little bigoted.
When Daly did not speak, Irwin looked up at him.
'No offence, Celcius,' he said, the easy smile never leaving his face. 'But the Catholic Church looks more like a rogues' gallery these days.'
Excerpted from Silence by Anthony Quinn. Copyright © 2015 Anthony Quinn. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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