Spoiler Alert! This review contains spoilers. So if you haven’t listened to West Cork yet and are intending to do so - stop reading now!
It was a viral podcast before podcasts were even really a thing.
And now the West Cork podcast is getting a new lease of life having been released on several freely available platforms including Apple Podcasts and Acast in recent weeks - West Cork had previously been an Audible exclusive.
The 13-part documentary series recounts the brutal 1996 murder of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Toormore near Schull and the subsequent fall out and investigation.
Produced by journalist Sam Bungey (The Guardian, The Daily Beast) and his wife, TV documentary maker Jennifer Forde, West Cork became a global smash when released and helped usher in the podcast boom we’ve been living through for the last few years.
We’ve been writing about the series since 2018 and the murder it's based on since 1996 so we feel it's only right that we go back and review the 13 episodes with fresh ears now that it's finding a new audience.
Over the next 13 weeks we’ll be publishing a review of each episode every Monday on southernstar.ie so we hope you’ll join us on our journey.
Disclaimer: I have somehow managed to never listen to an episode (until now) despite having lived and worked in West Cork for the best part of three years.
I also happen to live with an amateur sleuth who is obsessed with the series, the investigation and the chief suspect so even though I’m new to it, my reviews may well be influenced by prior knowledge.
Now on with the show.
Episode 1: Blow-ins
Firstly, the title of episode one couldn’t be better. There is no place on Earth where the phrase ‘blow-in’ is more loaded than in West Cork.
And there is probably no West Cork town where it’s more contentious than in Schull - setting for much of the series.
As a blow-in myself I feel more than qualified to make such claims.
And throughout the debut episode our hosts, Jennifer and Sam, regularly allude to the different types of blow-in we have in our lovely region.
There are the first settlers, or the hippie blow-ins as they prefer not to be called.
Then you have the yachtie blow-ins - the doctors and lawyers who purchased second homes in Crookhaven.
And in more recent times it's the Silicon blow-ins - young professionals who swapped city life for a life of leisure, sea-swimming and Instagram posing at farmers markets.
But joking aside, (and believe me, this series leaves all joking aside) episode one opens with the grisly details of the discovery of a murdered French woman whose body has been found in a remote part of West Cork.
There is no forensic evidence and no known motive.
Despite knowing the gist of the story prior to tuning in, I’m hooked after 45 seconds.
The fact the murder victim is practically anonymous in such a tight-knit area makes it all the more intriguing.
The first local voice we hear is that of Billy O’Sullivan, of O’Sullivan’s Bar in Crookhaven.
The amicable publican is, at this point of the series, thought to have been the last person to see Sophie Toscan du Plantier alive.
The main thrust of the coverage surrounding this podcast series and the actual murder has almost always revolved around the never-convicted chief suspect - a blow-in suspected of murdering a fellow blow-in.
Episode one refers to this person, though not by name, instead leaving the listener wanting more.
Our collective fascination with the chief suspect is highlighted in the episode by an unofficial fan club consisting of tea-drinking, sandwich-wielding old ladies who have made it their business to attend every day of his trial in Dublin.
And from personal experience I know that its not just the elderly who are obsessed.
No matter where I go in Ireland, whenever I tell someone I live and work in West Cork, I can say with near-certainty that their reply will feature one of the following: Graham Norton, the O'Donovan's and/or the chief suspect in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder.
One contributor to the podcast makes reference to the fact that said chief suspect can be seen selling pizzas in the markets around West Cork as if nothing has happened.
I’ve seen him too. My better half received his signed book of poetry as a gift for Christmas from a friend.
This same contributor once again referring to the main suspect says: ‘He’s always trying to be normal and trying to get people to like him - but we all know, don’t we?’
But do we really know?
I guess there’s only one way to find out!