Review: West Cork by Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey

Erich Mayer

Forde and Bungey do a brilliant job of reporting the investigation of Toscan du Plantier’s murder in this Audible series.
Review: West Cork by Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey

Image via Audible Original.

The person who brutally murdered 39-year-old French film producer, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, in 1993 is unknown to this day. Much has been written about the investigation of her murder and the subsequent court proceedings, including Michael Sheridan’s book Death in December. The case was reviewed on Irish TV as recently as July 2017.

But Forde and Bungey do such a brilliant job of reporting the investigation of Toscan du Plantier’s murder and the subsequent related events that even those familiar with the case will find West Cork interesting. The two authors have used their journalistic skills to present an insightful and unbiased view of the police investigations and the various individuals who became involved. They spent many months in West Cork and in Dublin, soaking up the atmosphere and researching the case. When one person was asked about the West Cork locals, she replied, ‘Did you see the film Deliverance?’ But another said the local people were very kind.

In this 13-part audio series, Forde and Bungey set out to seperate the truth from the fiction surrounding the mystery. The episodes range from 27 to 46 minutes, so there is plenty of time to explore events in detail, which the authors manage to do while sustaining the listener’s interest. The story is narrated by Ford and Bungey, and is laced with verbatim comments by many of those involved, not least by the main suspect, Ian Bailey. This adroit mixing of story-telling with the actual voices and opinions of the participants is particularly effective. This is using audio to its full advantage.

This audio contains an abundance of the ingredients to hold the listener’s interest. The murder in Ireland of a lovely and talented French woman – a woman who used her maiden name, Buoniol, while visiting Ireland – who was married to a well known film producer. There’s the remote location of her house in a beautiful part of Ireland, in a place with such a small population that everyone can tell you ‘who stole the wellington boots from the general store, who has a drinking problem and who beats his wife’. There’s the Irish police guards – the Gardaí – running an investigation, with a crime scene that may or may not have been compromised. There’s the mysterious man in a long black coat. There’s a turncoat double agent. There’s an apparent lack of motive and a missing murder weapon and an absence of any useful forensic evidence. And there’s a charismatic, wife-beating, poetry-writing suspect who could not be charged with murder because of the lack of evidence. In addition there are allegations that the Gardaí intimidated witnesses: ‘You’ll be found dead in a ditch with a bullet in your head’. And there is a key witness who changes her evidence.

Bailey’s lawyer, Frank Buttimer, cannot believe that a drunken Bailey could commit a brutal murder and not leave even the slightest trace of any forensic evidence. He helps Bailey clear his name. The Gardaí remain convinced of Bailey’s guilt but can’t persuade the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions that there is sufficient evidence to go to trial. In spite of that, and to the disgust of the Irish, the French courts decide to prosecute Bailey for murder under French law.

True-crime stories have a strong appeal, as the many blogs, books and podcasts on this topic can testify. So this Audible series is likely to command a wide audience. It is unlikely that its listeners will be disappointed.

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5

West Cork

Audible Original

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What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog