An Irish psychiatrist embarks on an unimaginable historical revenge in this gripping literary thriller.
Dublin, 2019: Dr. Michael Gleeson is a quiet man, a good friend, and a useless cook. He also spends part of his professional life secretly counseling former members of the decommissioned IRA. Michael always thought this would be enough to satisfy his Republican heritage, but when the highly skilled yet deeply disturbed Turlough O’Sullivan enters his office, Michael sees an opportunity that he just can't overlook.
Haunted by childhood tales of the gruesome history of the Irish people under British rule, Michael persuades his new patient to help him track down and kill the living descendants of the worst men in Ireland’s past, seeking a bloody revenge for 800 years of destruction. But Michael's twisted plan doesn't run smoothly: not only must he learn the brutal truth about the role models who formed him as a child, but on his trail is a young detective at Scotland Yard, an officer obsessed with stopping the unknown serial killer who is out for an historical revenge that she can't understand.
Plot: Finkielman’s novel is fast paced and meticulously plotted. A wealth of historical research supports the plot and makes the book’s events feel fresh and believable.
Prose/Style: The prose here is haunting and poetic. Told from several perspectives, Finkielman’s story skillfully alternates narrators and time periods while delivering a captivating narrative.
Originality: Readers will enjoy this psychological thriller set against the horrors and aftermath of the Irish Famine. Finkielman’s haunting prose and excellent use of tension set the novel apart.
Character Development: The characters in Starving Men are diverse and well-drawn. Readers will be fascinated by protagonist Michael Gleeson, a respected psychiatrist who masterminds several murders, as retribution for historical atrocities committed against the Irish. The secondary characters are distinct and serve the story well.
Blurb: A masterfully written, complex thriller about one man’s obsession with righting the wrongs of the past.
Date Submitted: May 13, 2020
Finkielman effectively reveals pertinent facts to the reader while leaving aspects of this information open-ended. The plot twists in this increasingly exciting thriller build intrigue until the true, demented brilliance of Gleeson’s plan is audaciously revealed. Simultaneously, Gleeson’s understanding of his own family history is rocked by long-buried revelations, right until the end. There are times when the introductions of new characters are confusing, but Finkielman is able to right the ship each time. The ultimate banality of Gleeson’s father’s criminal history slows down the narrative, even if it does add a necessary dimension to the character, but the ending and denouement offer sly shocks that will leave the reader feeling deeply satisfied.
Gleeson is depicted as a murkily sympathetic figure, if a deeply disturbed one. He’s a loyal friend and an excellent therapist. The book explores the history of England’s abuses against Ireland through his eyes while also delving into how the IRA traumatized and killed its own members. Maggie is the only purely sympathetic character, and she’s an obvious rebuke to Gleeson, if one that represents a generation gap. Finkielman gives this murder mystery a powerful, personal context that is well researched, riveting, and even sadly poetic.
Takeaway: Readers interested in richly researched political, personal, and historical details will be drawn to the tense, taut storytelling in this post-Troubles Irish thriller.
Great for fans of Eoin McNamee’s Resurrection Man, Eamon Collins’s Killing Rage, Wendy Erskine’s Sweet Home.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B
An absorbing tale brimming with politics, historical details, and mystery.
In this debut thriller, a psychiatrist in Ireland enlists a professional killer to exact long-awaited revenge on behalf of his country. Dr. Michael Gleeson, whose father was an active member of the Irish Republican Army, counsels individuals with ties to the decommissioned IRA. His latest patient is Turlough O’Sullivan, an admitted killer suffering from problems such as OCD.
Michael offers Turlough a paying gig: find and kill John Bingham, aka Lord Lucan, who fled London decades ago under suspicion of murdering his wife and a nanny. Michael’s motive is surprising: One of Lord Lucan’s ancestors evicted citizens from their homes during Ireland’s Great Famine. Michael has other targets for Turlough as well—descendants of powerful men whose actions resulted in the deaths of well over a million Irish people.
Over in London, Irish police detective Maggie O’Malley, on temporary assignment to Scotland Yard, investigates Lord Lucan’s murder. When she connects three recent homicides, she may discover a familial link to Michael. But it may be worse for Michael if the “organization” he works for makes the same connection, as the murders would likely derail attempts at peace in Northern Ireland. Complicating matters even further is Michael’s hit list, still with some names not crossed off.
Finkielman’s novel is rich in history, particularly specifics about Northern Ireland’s political unrest. Characters from that country are largely sympathetic, their ancestors having endured many atrocities. But the author certainly doesn’t champion the protagonist’s deeds. Enhancing the tale is a rock-solid murder mystery. As Lord Lucan left behind notes professing his innocence, Maggie scrutinizes the unsolved crime, which pushes her closer to Michael. This whodunit has a discernible, enthralling narrative arc that reaches a gratifying resolution before the end. And though the story is more character-driven than action-oriented, Finkielman’s pithy writing gives it an unwavering momentum.
Kirkus Verdict: 'Get It.'
A most rare personal comment from me before further reviewing Starving Men by S.E. Finkielman. Man, can the Irish tell a story! As subtle as English Brits, (not redundant here), but somehow more ruthless and poetic. Bloodless, yet emotionally overwhelming. Proven once again by this deeply talented author of a ruthless and poetic, bloodless and emotional mystery/thriller, itself connected inextricably to the recognizably potent history of famine, troubles, and vengeful murder. Subtle, too, in masterful understatements and allusions; never underestimating the intelligence of readers. A story that bowls one over with the power of delayed impact. One cannot write well enough to properly praise this writing.
Starving Men is a tale of serial murder. S.E. Finkielman deftly makes of it a tale of justice. Revisiting the historical past, not with the objective dryness of a historian but the ardor of an unwilling co-participant, the author co-opts the utterly captive reader into an emotional co-conspiracy. The Doolough Walk (1849) alone will chill your very soul. One would openly applaud the admittedly twisted “protagonist” were it not for the obvious diminishment of one’s own self-image in the process. One does not applaud serial killing. Except in secret. But the secrets held prisoner by all the characters in this roadrunner of a novel demand even an inequitable accounting. Or, at least an outing. And thus, with the inevitability of apocalypse and the perverse eagerness of defeat, the reader is overtly seduced and, also thus, kept reading on toward the inevitable climax. Strained. Emotionally wrought. Satisfied.
Starving Men by S.E. Finkielman is a thriller about a killer on the loose and a madman controlling him. Michael is a successful psychiatrist who counsels people with a connection to the Irish Republican Army one way or another. He thought this would be his contribution to the IRA, but that all changed when his latest patient came for help. Turlough O’Sullivan may seem like a simple man, but he is a murderer. He came to Michael to seek help for his OCD, but Michael has a job for him. Michael wants Turlough to kill just a few men to pay for the sins of their ancestors. But Turlough has to be discreet and be able to do it all without getting caught. Sadly, for them, the murders have caught the attention of Irish police detective Maggie O’Malley who will stop at nothing until she gets the sick person behind these murders. What will happen in this cat and mouse game?
Starving Men by S.E. Finkielman is rich in history and shows how deep the wounds can run. Michael, Maggie, and Turlough are three very different characters with very different lives and each of them gets an opportunity to share their story with readers. I enjoyed how the author provided ample page space to all three of them for the reader to become invested in their background stories. I loved the chase and Maggie’s drive to find who was killing these people in cold blood. The author described Turlough's mental state very clearly, giving just enough information for the reader to draw their own conclusions and feel trapped in his mind. Michael, on the other hand, is a character that I loved to hate. He is driven mad by his obsession and he will stop at nothing until he gets what he wants. All three of them show a different angle to the picture and each angle completes the story.
The narrative is smooth, the story flows seamlessly and the atmosphere of the setting gave me chills. This is exactly what I expect to feel when I read a thriller.
"In S.E. Finkielman's Starving Men, Dr. Michael Gleeson had lived through difficult and hard times and had the dark memories to prove it. He recalled many of the hardships and the names of those who forced difficult times upon Ireland. When his new patient, Turlough O'Sullivan, an employee of a decommissioned IRA associate, creates an undeniable bond between them, Michael decides to ask for this murderer's aid in bringing justice to people he never knew but whose names had been remembered by history, carved in blood and suffering. However, one cannot take such actions and expect to remain unnoticed. Detective Margaret 'Maggie' O'Malley becomes as obsessed with this case as she is with obtaining historical justice. Will she close in on the killer, or will he remain hidden in the shadows, executing justice in the name of his homeland?
S.E. Finkielman's Starving Men is a gripping crime thriller set mainly between London and Dublin. The writing style gives a great atmosphere of both places. I especially enjoyed how we delved into the main character's memories and knowledge to uncover the consequences of past historical horrors, and how we even relived some of the horrors experienced during and after the time of The Great Hunger through snippets from other people and saw how their repercussions continued for countless years to come. The smooth first-person narrative from Michael's perspective gives readers an instant connection to him; he is well respected in his field but harbors a grudge he cannot release. For me this book was as educational as it was entertaining, bringing to light atrocities and a history I was never taught in school. The characters are well-defined and realistic and added a believable spin to the unfolding plot.
A murder mystery like no other, with not only historical motives but an engaging plot that in places put me in mind of Red Dragon. Psychology and history combine to create a riveting and engrossing read."
Rating: Five Stars
It’s unusual for me, as I read quite a bit, to be surprised by a book. I typically see the formula, the plot is obvious, or the current trends in writing are super evident in most of the books that I read. Starving Men surprised me. It’s an interesting read and a fun one.Siobhan Finkielman’s novel is about an Irish psychiatrist who seeks revenge. The cover mentions “800 years of revenge,” so I’m not giving anything away by saying that he seeks revenge for some of history’s darker sins. The sections of the book that are told from the point of view of the psychiatrist are told in the first person, while the other sections, focusing on the police officer’s account, are told in the third person.I didn’t know very much about Irish history before reading Starving Men. Of course, I’d heard of the Troubles and remembered news stories about the IRA. I’ve recently watched some British historical dramas and learned about the wars and tensions between the Danes, Scots, Irish, Saxons, and British. Upon starting the book, I was concerned that it would have too much detail about the historical background. I’ve read too many books with a lengthy chapter of history that deviates from the plot. Instead, Finkielman adds just the right amount of background. History lessons and Irish/British politics are sprinkled throughout the book, but in an enjoyable and informative way. The novel made me want to learn more about Irish history.There are a lot of characters in Starving Men, but it is well focused on the protagonist, Michael. He’s got depth to him. The reader watches him struggle emotionally and psychologically, and he feels very real. There are some great action scenes involving him, too. Maggie is a police officer, and while she didn’t come alive for me in the same way Michael did, she is a good character to root for. She stands in opposition to Michael’s goals. There are several other IRA-associated characters and law enforcement characters. I did find myself needing to go back and forth and make some notes to remember who was who. The only thing that I really struggled with was some of the dialogue, when it was assumed that the reader knew who was talking.I can see a future movie of Starving Men, and it would be a great one. Finkielman has done a wonderful job with this ode to Ireland.
A complex, suspenseful plot with tension so thick that it felt palpable. Rich with historical details relevant to the time period. Wonderful characters with depth and substance. I was immediately drawn in and held captive from beginning to end.