We know them as paintings of the Last Judgment, found in churches and museums all over the world but especially in Europe. Popular in the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods, these paintings depict their artists’ understanding of God’s last judgment, including many of the graphic and gory details. Not for nothing are they known as “Doom paintings.”
Who would have expected someone in 21st century Belfast to use a Doom painting as a guide to serial murders?
Chief Inspector Jim Sheehan of the Belfast police is called to investigate the murder of a bishop. The man’s body has been found by the housekeeper, and it’s been stripped, stabbed in the pattern of a crucifix, and rather strangely arranged to depict or suggest – what? The only clue, if it is a clue, are some letters and numbers carved on the bishop’s desk.
Sheehan assembles his team of investigators, and together they manage to come up with nothing but dead ends. Then a second killing happens, and a third. There will be five in all. And possibly six, because Sheehan is getting too close to the killer.
The Doom Murders by Brian O’Hare blends police investigation procedure, church theology, the changes the church is experiencing, and a bit of art history into a fascinating tale of murder and retribution. And as Sheehan and his team learn more, including from the help of a monsignor who himself may or may not be a suspect, they find what is connecting a bishop, a school principal, a social worker, a legislator, and an abbess.
O’Hare is a retired assistant director of a large regional college in Northern Ireland. In addition to The Doom Murders, he’s also written a second Jim Sheehan novel, The 11:05 Murders; three Inspector Sheehan short stories, “Murder at Loftus House,” “Murder at the Roadside Café,” and “Murder at the Care Home;” a work of general fiction entitled Fallen Men; a memoir, A Spiritual Odyssey: A Diary of an Ordinary Catholic; and a non-fiction work, The Miracle Ship: Conversations with John Gillespie.
The Doom Murders has received a number of writing awards, and it’s easy to see why. O’Hare has written a crisp, compelling story. We suffer with the police detective team during the early stages as it experiences one frustration after another, and then find ourselves gripping the sides of our chair as the solution and the killer’s identity gets closer and closer. It’s a vastly entertaining story.
Painting: The Last Judgment, oil on oak (1455-1450) by Roger Van Der Weyden, also known as the Beaune Altarpiece.