The best books about Belfast

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Belfast and why they recommend each book.

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The Bulkies

By Brian Griffin,

Book cover of The Bulkies: Police and Crime in Belfast, 1800-1865

It is not widely known that, like Dublin, Derry and Belfast were policed by their own municipal forces. The Belfast Police was responsible for preserving peace and order in the parts of the city which paid their rates. It looked after lighting, paving, and scavenging. Following sectarian violence and alleged police partisanship peaking in the riots of 1864 and 1869, Derry and Belfast forces were deemed inadequate in the face of rising public distrust.  In contrast to the Royal Irish Constabulary or the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which were headed by Commissioners, the Belfast police were under a single authority, the police board, until 1844, and a police committee thereafter – whose members, as Griffin aptly shows, gave ample reason for ongoing allegations of partisanship and corruption.

The Bulkies

By Brian Griffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bulkies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Ireland, the story of nineteenth-century policing has been dominated mainly by studies of the Royal Irish Constabulary and, to a lesser extent, of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. This book tells the story of the Ã?Â?Ã?«forgotten forceÃ?Â?Ã?Â- of Irish police history, the Belfast Borough Police or Ã?Â?Ã?«BulkiesÃ?Â?Ã?Â-.


Who am I?

I am an historian of urban crime and policing. I specialise in metropolitan forces, for example the Dublin Metropolitan Police, London Police, and their colonial counterparts. I am particularly interested in the transnational exchange of concepts and personnel. The latter decades of the nineteenth century saw a lively and consistent movement of police across countries and continents, cross-pollinating ideas and experiences, shaping the future of organised policing. I have traced Australian policing roots to the streets of Dublin and London, which are explored in To Preserve and Protect: Policing Colonial Brisbane (2020) through personal life stories of policemen and criminals alike.


I wrote...

A History of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Its Colonial Legacy

By Anastasia Dukova,

Book cover of A History of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Its Colonial Legacy

What is my book about?

This book illuminates the neglected history of the Dublin Metropolitan Police – a history that has been long overshadowed by existing historiography, which has traditionally been preoccupied with the more radical aspects of Irish history.

It explores the origins of the institution and highlights the Dublin Metropolitan Police’s profound influence on the colonial forces, as its legacy reached some of the furthest outposts of the British Empire. In doing so Anastasia Dukova provides much-needed nuance and complexity to our understanding of Ireland as a whole, and Dublin in particular, demonstrating that it was far more than a lawless place ravaged by political and sectarian violence. Simultaneously, the book tells the story of the bobby on the beat, the policeman who made the organisation; his work and day, the conditions of service, and how they affected or bettered his lot at home and abroad.

Book cover of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

I was so moved when I read The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne that it inspired me to write my novel with my protagonist Laurence J Benbo as a male equivalent of Judith Hearne, an innocent exploited by an uncaring world. The quotidian details of Judith’s life are delineated brilliantly by Moore in all her wretchedness reminiscent of some of the characters in Joyce’s Dubliners which Moore would have read and which possibly influenced him. The dark surroundings of Judith’s life lead her into a fantasy world aided by her one necessary weakness—alcohol. But, as Moore points out, it doesn’t have to end tragically. There is a glimmer of hope with life going on, but nothing as before.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

By Brian Moore,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of The Guardian’s “1,000 Books to Read Before You Die”

This underrated classic of contemporary Irish literature tells the “utterly transfixing” story of a lonely, poverty-stricken spinster in 1950s Belfast (The Boston Globe)

Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.

Hailed by Graham Greene, Thomas Flanagan, and Harper Lee alike, The Lonely Passion of…


Who am I?

I am a novelist, poet, and short story writer born in Dublin, Ireland. I have always been interested in literature particularly books which I deem as works of art and which throw light on the human condition, something which I try to do in my own work. I have broadcast my poetry and prose on radio and write book reviews for national newspapers. I divide my time now between Kildare and my little mountain abode in West Cork. 


I wrote...

Letters to Jude

By James Lawless,

Book cover of Letters to Jude

What is my book about?

Letters to Jude is my most experimental novel to date and the book that has most meaning for me. It plays with language, form, and style.

Ostensibly, it is about an ailing middle-aged librarian Leo Lambkin who after his mother’s premature and sudden death receives a letter of condolence from an old flame, Bernarda Rodríguez. A correspondence follows between them as she reveals he is the father of her child begot by violent circumstances years previously in the chief librarian’s house. Overwrought by what happened, Bernarda disappeared from Leo’s life and returned to Spain. Leo disguises Bernarda as a gender-neutral Jude so his childless wife Lil will not cotton on to what is happening. The experimental nature of this novel involves streams of consciousness, telepathy, and philosophical and mythological insights.

Book cover of Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel

Ireland again, this time in the 80s, and right in the middle of the Troubles. Adrian McKinty’s cop, Sean Duffy, is an outsider, a Catholic in a Protestant police force. He’s irreverent, sarcastic, bitter, and a more than occasional drug user. In Police at the Station (6th in the series) Duffy investigates the murder of a small-time heroin dealer, who’s been shot by a crossbow. Meanwhile his posh girlfriend wants to move…the Sean Duffy novels are tough, funny, exciting, and extremely well done. Enjoy!

Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

By Adrian McKinty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestselling author

Another thrilling mystery featuring Detective Sean Duffy and his most dangerous investigation yet

Belfast, 1988. A man is found dead, killed with a bolt from a crossbow in front of his house. This is no hunting accident. But uncovering who is responsible for the murder will take Detective Sean Duffy down his most dangerous road yet, a road that leads to a lonely clearing on a high bog where three masked gunmen will force Duffy to dig his own grave.

Hunted by forces unknown, threatened by Internal Affairs, and with his relationship on the rocks,…


Who am I?

I’ve always read and loved crime fiction – so much so I did a doctorate in it. I believe good crime fiction has the capacity to explore particular societies, places, and times in interesting and enjoyable ways. I also like crime fiction’s focus on character, and particularly in crime series which show a character evolving over time. That’s why I chose the theme of ‘flawed detective’ and that’s what I’m trying to do in my Schalk Lourens series, of which Present Tense is the first. I hope you enjoy it, and also the other books I’ve recommended here.


I wrote...

Present Tense: A Schalk Lourens Mystery

By Natalie Conyer,

Book cover of Present Tense: A Schalk Lourens Mystery

What is my book about?

Present Tense is a police procedural set in present-day South Africa, in Cape Town. Schalk Lourens, a cop with a past he’s ashamed of, must investigate the murder of his ex-boss, an execution that recalls the bad old days of apartheid. His investigation is made more difficult by the tensions of post-apartheid society. Schalk must tread a line between the new regime and the old, between personal and professional, between justice and revenge.

Present Tense won the 2020 Ned Kelly Award for a debut novel and was shortlisted for the Davitt Awards. The Sydney Morning Herald called it "superbly structured" and with a "cast of engaging characters."

Eureka Street

By Robert McLiam Wilson,

Book cover of Eureka Street: A Novel of Ireland Like No Other

Absurd, funny, ingenious, sad, and violent, this book is an ode to Belfast. The first line – and I’m big into first lines – runs: “All stories are love stories.” Are they? Are they not? I still don’t know. Yet that’s the nature of the characters here, the nature of this cynical society too, back in 1994 as the ceasefire trembled into life and everyone was confused by the silence. So, ceasefire time, an obese Protestant waster cashes in by selling ‘ethnic accessories,’ including walking sticks for leprechauns. And his erudite, tough Catholic mate prowls Belfast while getting hassled and thinking deeply about getting laid. Self-appointed ‘revolutionaries’ get torn a new one here, and rightly so. All of Wilson’s books are blunt among the beautiful. Sadly there’s all too few of them.

Eureka Street

By Robert McLiam Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eureka Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When your street address can either save your life or send it up the creek, there’s no telling what kind of daily challenges you’ll face in the era of the Northern Irish Troubles.

“All stories are love stories,” begins Eureka Street, Robert McLiam Wilson’s big-hearted and achingly funny novel. Set in Belfast during the Troubles, Eureka Street takes us into the lives and families of Chuckie Lurgan and Jake Jackson, a Protestant and a Catholic—unlikely pals and staunch allies in an uneasy time. When a new work of graffiti begins to show up throughout the city—“OTG”—the locals are stumped. The…


Who am I?

I grew up in this place, born here when the Troubles began. In one form or another, the conflict was everywhere. It was built into the infrastructure, into attitudes. It infested conversations, hurt friendships, killed old folks, children, friends, and family. Fiction from and about Northern Ireland was inevitably hamstrung by that dominant, terrible story. Since the 1994 ceasefires, our fiction has come charging forward. It’s analytical, bullish, enlightening, funny as hell, and it moves us forward by taking honest stock of what came before. I love this emerging place and its new voices. And I love to read and write stories about it. It’s a stubborn home, often maddening, truly kind, forever breath-taking.


I wrote...

Did She See You?

By Jason Johnson,

Book cover of Did She See You?

What is my book about?

Miriam says her brain is intercepting random social media messages. Then she shoots her mother dead. Declared insane, the Belfast teenager gets locked in a psych ward. All she does there, all day, is murmur what she insists are the live, online exchanges running through her brain. Denis, Miriam’s migrant stepfather, was the only witness to the killing. He’s trying to develop his life coaching business yet can’t stop thinking about the murder. He is desperate to know if, in her last moment, his wife knew Miriam was about to kill her. During visits, he tries over and over to break through her noise with one question – Did She See You? And then another murder, but this one could not have been Miriam. 

Across The Barricades

By Joan Lingard,

Book cover of Across The Barricades

An epic love story. This novel explores a Catholic and a Protestant trying to be together when it was once inequivocally frowned upon. A huge hurdle that tries to prevent love from flourishing. And what’s a story without some kind of love angle in there somewhere? No one can know what they do, so starting a relationship with someone out with the organisation isn’t an option. Unless they’re lucky enough to find love with one of the other members, their fate was sealed when they signed their life away.

Across The Barricades

By Joan Lingard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Across The Barricades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An engaging classroom playscript. Kevin is Catholic. Sadie is Protestant. In Belfast they are supposed to be enemies - so what chance do they have when they fall in love?


Who am I?

I always look for an escape from reality, but it’s not always because the world gets exhausting and I need a change of scenery. Sometimes, I’m looking to learn. As an autistic person, people can be very confusing to me. I love a book that throws something new at me to try and figure out how a certain person functions, or why they think/feel the way they do, and if I can’t do it on my own, I can discuss the book with friends and family and create a discussion through the medium of storytelling and novel writing. Autism can be very debilitating at times, so an escape is always a handy thing to have!


I wrote...

Colour Coded: The Black Bullet

By Katy Jordan,

Book cover of Colour Coded: The Black Bullet

What is my book about?

Colour Coded is a secret organisation situated in the middle of the Cairngorms of Scotland, that work from the shadows to assist law enforcement while keeping everyone oblivious to their existence. Made up of people who drop their identities upon entry, that is their one absolute rule; no pasts allowed. So when Bullet’s previous boss Neon threatens to reveal her past along with the identities of everyone else, all of their missions grind to a halt, as she and the rest of the team must try to stay one step ahead of him, with the aim of stopping him once and for all.

The City of Ember

By Jeanne DuPrau,

Book cover of The City of Ember

The central theme running through the book’s post-apocalyptic landscape is a series of clues that must be solved, in true mystery fashion. Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow follow the signs left behind by the original builders of the underground City of Ember to escape to the outside world. Along the way, the reader is pulled further and further into the story, trying to understand this strange world and decipher the meaning of the clues alongside our intrepid heroes. Also thrown in is some old-fashioned political corruption to add to the mystery feel.

The City of Ember

By Jeanne DuPrau,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The City of Ember as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ember is the only light in a dark world. But when its lamps begin to flicker, two friends must race to escape the dark. This highly acclaimed adventure series is a modern-day classic-with over 4 MILLION copies sold!

The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to dim. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she's sure it holds a secret that will save the city. Now, she and her friend Doon must race to figure out the clues to…


Who am I?

I am an award-winning mystery author of several private detective novels. All of my recommendations have an especially sentimental appeal since they were favorites of my son when he was younger. As we read them together, my mystery novelist sensibility couldn’t help but notice the classic crime story elements in all of these books. Dressed up as middle-grade fantasies, each of these novels uses the structures, tropes, and conventions of the mystery genre to propel its plot forward.


I wrote...

Head Games

By Thomas B. Cavanagh,

Book cover of Head Games

What is my book about?

With two ex-wives, a fifteen-year-old daughter who hates him, and a soon-to-be-fatal brain tumor nicknamed Bob, retired police detective Mike Garrity doesn’t have a lot to live for. However, when twenty-two-year-old TJ Sommerset, a millionaire member of the hit boy band Boyz Klub goes missing, Mike is offered the job of a lifetime to find him. It doesn’t hurt that Mike’s daughter is TJ’s biggest fan. So Mike is all too happy to make one last attempt to impress her. Yet, it isn’t long before Mike discovers that there are other people looking for TJ as well. And once a headless corpse shows up, it’s clear that they’re not just after him for his autograph.

Titanic

By John P. Eaton, Charles A. Haas,

Book cover of Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy

If Walter Lord’s book is the definitive account of the sinking, this large-format encyclopaedic volume, almost large enough to sink a ship, is the definitive story of the Titanic, from the drawing board to the bottom of the ocean, with nothing omitted between the two events. It is an epic work of research so comprehensive that it deserves a wholly new category of publishing: more than a book, Titanic – Triumph and Tragedy, is a museum.

First published in 1986, it was updated in the 1990s to include new information and photographs following the discovery of the wreck, which Eaton and Haas, both acknowledged Titanic experts, had seen for themselves from a submersible. 

The book’s structure is that of a sequential archive illustrated by more than a thousand contemporary photographs, including Harland & Wolff’s original architectural plans and engineering drawings. It moves from the launch in Belfast to life…

Titanic

By John P. Eaton, Charles A. Haas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Titanic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Continuing interest in the ill-fated vessel has been heightened in recent years by the dramatic events including the discovery of the wreck, new speculation on the Californian's failure to rescue the Titanic, and the recovery of artifacts from the disaster site. All are chronicled in a new chapter which, with a section of completely up-to-date color photographs, makes this edition a must.


Who am I?

I’m a former national newspaper editor and magazine publisher – and the grandson of Jock Hume, a violinist in the Titanic’s band. Jock, who was just 21 years old, had been playing on passenger ships since he was sixteen. His body was recovered ten days after the sinking, 40 miles from the scene the wreck. His family couldn’t afford to bring him home to Dumfries in Scotland, so he was buried alongside 121 other unclaimed Titanic bodies at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My book is the story of Jock’s life, his death…and the previously untold scandal of the aftermath of the sinking.


I wrote...

And the Band Played On...: The Enthralling Account of What Happened After the Titanic Sank

By Christopher Ward,

Book cover of And the Band Played On...: The Enthralling Account of What Happened After the Titanic Sank

What is my book about?

It’s the story about what happened after the Titanic sank.  As the band played on deck, 1,500 men, women, and children were swept into the ice-cold water of the North Atlantic. More than 1,200 were never seen again. What happened to them? Ward uncovers the scandal of how the cable-laying ship Mackay-Bennett, which sailed from Halifax to recover bodies, enforced a class system that mirrored the Titanic’s own class structure on board.  He finds uncomfortable parallels with contemporary corporate life: the cover-ups, the failure of anyone at the top to take responsibility. 

Ward’s book, which became a Sunday Times bestseller, inspired a Discovery Channel documentary, Titanic: The Aftermath, which tells the story of Jock’s short but daring life, not unlike that of Jack Dawson in the film, Titanic. Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, described Ward’s book as ‘a heart-breaking story, wonderfully told’.

Book cover of The Tea House on Mulberry Street

The Belfast locale is utterly charming, and I loved these characters and how their lives intersected. There’s so much we share with the neighbors and people in our community, sometimes unbeknownst to us, and Old’s storytelling reminds us of these delicate threads. Her writing is a joy to read, and if you haven’t read her before, start here and keep reading.

The Tea House on Mulberry Street

By Sharon Owens,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tea House on Mulberry Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The old tea house on Mulberry Street in Belfast hasn't changed much over the years. But it's about to bear witness to some significant transformations ...

Daniel Stanley might make the most glorious deserts in the whole of Ireland, but he won't support his wife Penny's desire to have at least one bun in the oven. And the owners of Muldoon's Tea Rooms are just two of the people inside hoping for change.

Struggling artist Brenda sits penning letters to Nicholas Cage and dreaming of a better life. Sadie finds refuge from her diet and her husband's infidelity in Daniel's…


Who am I?

As a well-traveled writer who has lived around the world, I’ve visited a tea salon in almost every city I visit. My favorite places are small communities filled with old-timers and well-wrought customs. Our lives are very fast-paced, and books that celebrate slowing down and a simpler life will always be a draw for me. Since I’m primarily a fiction writer, I also like a little mystery and tension in these otherwise idyllic little towns, not to mention the occasional scone and cup of tea.


I wrote...

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

By Darien Gee,

Book cover of The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

What is my book about?

The second book in the Friendship Bread series, Madeline's Tea Salon is the cozy hub of the small river town of Avalon, IL, where local residents scrapbook their memories and make new ones. Under the guidance of Bettie Shelton, the irascible founder of the Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, even the most reluctant of Avalon's residents come to terms with their past and make bold decisions about their future. When the group receives unexpected news about their steadfast leader, they must pull together to create something truly memorable.

Divorcing Jack

By Colin Bateman,

Book cover of Divorcing Jack

I was twenty-five and enraged at the self-pity and posturing dominating the Irish peace process. I was dying to write yet terrified of even attempting to say anything in print. And then, like a rogue rocket, Divorcing Jack arrived. A hilarious assault on Northern Irish sacred cows right at the bitter end of the bloody Troubles. A timely, wisecracking strike back at a place where being a self-important Muppet had become a job description. So… Dan Starkey, suspected of murdering a lover, stumbles through local fiefdoms to solve the crime himself. He was in places I knew, bars I drank in, saying things that needed to be said. Divorcing Jack started a train of thought that still runs in my mind, one that insists rules are for rulers, not writers. 

Divorcing Jack

By Colin Bateman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Divorcing Jack as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fast, funny, scary. A truly up-to-the-minute novel set in Belfast from a brilliant new writer. Now a major BBC/Scala film starring David Thewlis and Robert Lindsay. Dan Starkey is a young journalist in Belfast, who shares with his wife, Patricia, a prodigious appetite for drinking and dancing. Then Dan meets Margaret, a beautiful and apparently impoverished student, and things begin to get out of hand. And then, terrifyingly, Margaret is murdered. Is it because of her liaison with Dan? Is it because she was not exactly who she claimed to be? Is it the IRA? A Protestant extremist group? A…


Who am I?

I grew up in this place, born here when the Troubles began. In one form or another, the conflict was everywhere. It was built into the infrastructure, into attitudes. It infested conversations, hurt friendships, killed old folks, children, friends, and family. Fiction from and about Northern Ireland was inevitably hamstrung by that dominant, terrible story. Since the 1994 ceasefires, our fiction has come charging forward. It’s analytical, bullish, enlightening, funny as hell, and it moves us forward by taking honest stock of what came before. I love this emerging place and its new voices. And I love to read and write stories about it. It’s a stubborn home, often maddening, truly kind, forever breath-taking.


I wrote...

Did She See You?

By Jason Johnson,

Book cover of Did She See You?

What is my book about?

Miriam says her brain is intercepting random social media messages. Then she shoots her mother dead. Declared insane, the Belfast teenager gets locked in a psych ward. All she does there, all day, is murmur what she insists are the live, online exchanges running through her brain. Denis, Miriam’s migrant stepfather, was the only witness to the killing. He’s trying to develop his life coaching business yet can’t stop thinking about the murder. He is desperate to know if, in her last moment, his wife knew Miriam was about to kill her. During visits, he tries over and over to break through her noise with one question – Did She See You? And then another murder, but this one could not have been Miriam. 

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