Here, the officer is Sgt. Seán O'Keefe of the newly despised Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence in 1920. (The novel's title refers to a popular term for English and Irish police, derived from Sir Robert Peel, creator of the RIC and, later, of London's Metropolitan Police.)
As in Lucarelli's books, competing military and police forces, not always in this case divided neatly along national or religious lines, complicate the protagonist's moral, personal and professional lives. O'Keefe and colleagues are called on to investigate the murder of a young woman mutilated and left on a hill wearing a misspelled "traitor" sign.
Some on the British side are eager to blame the IRA — which has, in the meantime, launched its own, parallel investigation and is just as eager to blame Auxiliaries or "Auxies," a feared group within the RIC.
Mostly, though, at least through its first two thirds, the novel offers affecting portraits of rural and urban poverty in West Cork, moral uncertainty, and aching nostalgia for a time very recently passed, before the shooting started, when life seemed much simpler.
I don't know who will solve the mystery or how the case will be resolved (I've just guessed at the killer's identity, though I have no great confidence my guess is right), but in its evocation of its period, of what a war that no one seems quite sure is a war can do to people, Peeler is already one of the top books I've read this year.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010