Ex-UN peacekeeper Michelle Dunne from Cobh has just released a new novel looking at Ireland’s criminal underbelly. Photo: John Sexton Photography

She’s only gone and Dunne it again

“When I travelled, I remember that people thought Irish soldiers going to Lebanon was like a holiday; they would come back with a tan and with loads of cheap gold.”

Former UN peacekeeper Michelle Dunne has just released her latest novel ‘The Invisible’, a tense deep dive into Ireland’s grimy criminal underbelly.

This is the Cobh native’s second instalment in her series, telling the story of former elite soldier Lindsey Ryan who, although retired and suffering terribly from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), simply can’t help herself from getting involved in the crime and injustice she sees every day in Ireland.

Corporal Ryan’s new career sees her helping the troubled youth of Cork while also engaging in a very private battle with PTSD.

Michelle’s new novel, following on from last year’s ‘While Nobody is Watching’, is set in Cobh and explores the realities of human trafficking, prostitution, and rape in Cork and in Ireland.

Michelle says she can easily relate to the character following her own harrowing experiences in south Lebanon where she and her comrades faced death every day.

“In a way, Lindsey has a bit of a death wish, suffering from her own PTSD, but as well as that, the survivor guilt that she's riddled with on account of her friend being killed in front of her in Seria,” says Michelle.

The core theme of Michelle’s new book, as the title suggests, focuses on those who slip between the cracks through forced migration and become invisible, something Michell says is far more common in Ireland than most might think.

She says the current situation with those forced to flee Ukraine is an example of this.

“I read an article about three or four weeks into the war, that already 1,200 children have gone missing. This is kind of what the theme of 'The Invisible' is, that these people are obviously very vulnerable; they can disappear without anyone ever knowing they're gone. They disappear, they pop up somewhere else, and they are literally invisible. They’re under our noses but they have been trafficked. They're in desperate situations that we know nothing about. We don't see them. They're gone.”

Through her research into Ireland’s crime underbelly, Michelle said she has learned that sex trafficking and prostitution is not something that should just be associated with Dublin city centre, and that it is happening all over the country in towns and villages.

“I take an awful lot of inspiration from the headlines. Over the last few years, people who have been accidentally found, they come here thinking they're coming for one reason and they end up doing a completely different job. I think it's a lot more common than we think it is.

“Living in Cobh, I have some friends in the navy, and the stories that they have shared with me…

“Cobh is an absolutely beautiful place and full of lovely people, and I've painted a terrible picture of it, but it's a fact that it happens everywhere.”

Since the book was launched earlier this year, there have been talks of adapting the Lindsey Ryan series to TV, something Michelle says would suit her character.

“It's very exciting. When I finished this book, I knew by the end that I wouldn't be finished with Lindsey Ryan. She is the kind of character that can end up anywhere, she can end up in any situation. She will be back again.”

One of the most beloved characters in Michelle’s last book was Lindsey’s service dog Frank who helped Lindsey in her constant struggle with PTSD. For those who haven’t reads the first book – spoiler warning – Frank returns for the sequel!

“You know what, I've had so many messages from readers warning me not to let anything happen to Frank. I feel like I've written him too old!” laughed Michelle.

During her time in the army, Michelle went from recruit to infantry soldier, to peacekeeper with the UN, to instructor back home in Ireland. She now lives in the Cobh with her husband and daughter and a large cast of characters waiting to make their way onto paper (and screen!)