Talty sets his gruesome thriller in South Buffalo, in an Irish community known as "the twenty-seventh County," with strong political ties to the IRA reaching back to Ireland in the time of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Not much has changed: young rebels grown older, settled with families of their own, their politics essentially unchanged. The County forms a united front, policing their own, resisting intrusion even from law a local police department literally peopled by Irish cops. A horrific mutilation/murder begins a reign of terror, as one victim after another is found in a bloody, tortured tableau for maximum public impact.
Adopted daughter of retired Buffalo policeman John Kearney, an insider in a club where that status is critical, Absalom Kearney has followed her father into the department but has always been kept at a distance by the man she idolizes. From childhood, Abbie has been part of the Irish community, but she is not 'from' it by virtue of gender and origin—raven-haired and light-skinned in a city of ginger-haired, freckled Irishmen. By the time a second corpse appears, as graphically displayed as the first albeit differently, Abbie is certain the killings are linked.
The most pressing problem she faces is the County's unwillingness to talk. Witnesses remain silent when approached. Given the area's background and history of secrecy, Abbie harbors no doubt that the County is running a parallel investigation, stonewalling Abbie's official efforts at every level. But she is a Kearney—stubborn, determined and familiar with the habits of a place intimately tied to its Irish origins, the old ways firmly entrenched, long-buried secrets of a violent past at the root of the recent slaughters. The question is, who is next on the killer's list, and can she get to him first?
Talty creates a sense of place born of political ties and passionate patriotism, the soul of Ireland transplanted to South Buffalo. There the old beliefs still dominate; allegiance to the County trumps every other, and a wall of silence protects those who need the safety of anonymity because of past deeds. The violence of the past simmers beneath the facade of community, but something ugly, something broken, has come loose and returned to wreak vengeance on those responsible. The scenes of the murders and the carefully placed evidence begin to feel more and more personal, as though the killer has a message for Abbie: "Somebody knew where she'd been and where she was going even before she did."
Family, politics, rebellion and lawbreaking from decades before come into conflict in a thriller taut with the history of the Irish community that inhabits the County. Abbie has the instincts of a true detective and the determination of a woman who has constantly had to prove herself. Often feeling isolated in a department dominated by men, Abbie keeps her own counsel and trusts no one. All the while, she collects the tantalizingly familiar items left at each murder scene, the connection hovering at the edges of her memory.
Though the novel feels geographically otherworldly in the 21st century, the setting truly reflects a past rife with blood feuds, rebellion and the unbridled patriotism of men whose ties to Ireland are inviolable. Underneath the glib speeches, the posturing and the existence of a secret organization lies a heinous act of great injustice, the vengeance of a tortured soul wrought on the community where it took root in the black heart of betrayal.