I’d thought of writing for years and was too afraid to try, but I can pinpoint the exact day when I couldn’t resist the urge to write any longer. Down on my parents’ farm in autumn 2014, I saw three sheep sitting motionless under a hawthorn tree, gazing at the mountains four or five miles distant. They looked liked portents, their black faces and the blood red berries and the deathly quiet of the afternoon. I wrote a short story that opened with the image of the sheep, and ended with a woman finding out that her husband had killed himself and their two children. A few months later, I began this novel with nothing except a protagonist and a setting – Finola ‘Finn’ Fitzpatrick who, like me, works as a solicitor, and Cork, where I live. I had an idea that Finn would be Nancy Drew mixed with John Rebus. Not the most likely combination? Perhaps. But what both characters have in common is their independence and a quality of relentlessness that pushes them to keep on going right to the end.
I started the novel in November 2014. Cork Film Festival had just ended and I decided to have the festival form a backdrop to the plot. That setting mixed in my head with the Jimmy Savile scandal – the news story that had dominated 2013 and 2014 – and the question that I’d kept asking myself since learning about his crimes: how did he escape prosecution? I knew that the novel would have to say something about the paralysing power of fame, and about how hard it can be find someone to believe a person with a different story to tell.
So Darkest Truth opens on a wet Friday in November as Finn leaves work for the weekend. With a gale howling and a flood warning in place, it’s just after six but it might as well be the middle of the night. On the dark deserted street outside her office, Finn is stopped by a man who tells her that, fifteen years before, his daughter was abused by Ireland’s most successful film director, the much-loved Jeremy Gill. But the man’s daughter – the only possible witness – is dead, the authorities have given the complaint the brush-off, and Finn knows that that’s what she should do too.
Except she can’t. More than that, she won’t. She’s an outsider with the personal history and the smarts to sense that there’s something to the man’s story. The trouble is, she’s the only one who thinks so. Nevertheless, she starts asking awkward questions and soon, she’s in serious danger. She learns fast that these are powerful people she’s up against, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets. She learns, too, that there’s no hard evidence whatsoever against Jeremy Gill.
Unless Finn can find it.
Darkest Truth, Catherine Kirwan’s first novel featuring Finn Fitzpatrick, is out now in eBook.