Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Tag

Secrets in an Irish Village   Leave a comment

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The Searcher, like most of Tania French’s mysteries involves an Irish setting and new characters. Here it’s Cal Hooper, recently retired from the Chicago police force, in a remote village where he’s renovating a fixer-upper.

Hooper’s content to fish, repair his house and ready to mind his own business. His plans are interrupted when a local kid pleads for help in finding an older brother who disappeared months ago.

Despite efforts to not get involved, Hooper agrees to see what he can discover. Aware, he’s an outsider and not wanting to overstep local authorities or customs, Hooper goes about his investigation as stealthily as possible. It isn’t enough.

French’s description of Hooper’s run-down home, the harsh landscape and the village residents is like a travelogue designed to keep tourists away. Sure the area has some visual appeal, but little else going for it. Hooper soon learns he’s not as clandestine as he’d hoped in his efforts to locate the young man who’s gone missing.

In fact, he misreads the words and actions of most of those he encounters. He’s surprised when it’s clear the villagers, his neighbor in particular, are aware he helping the taciturn kid who showed up uninvited at his house.

Of course, the question, beyond the whereabouts of the missing person, is why everyone is keen to keep Hooper uninformed. French is a master at creating tension. The element of suspense veers towards the realm of thriller. It’s almost necessary to keep several lights on while reading.

The Searcher

Four Bookmarks

Viking, 2020

451 pages

When Timing is Everything — Even Reading   1 comment

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

I choose books based on reviews I’ve read, recommendations from friends or sometimes the title alone is enough to intrigue me. The latter and a review led me to Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars.

Unfortunately, there was no pull for me; I discovered this within the first 20 pages. The problem is that the background is the 1918 flu epidemic and the references to quarantines are simply too immediate — even more than a century later.

Donoghue’s novel is set in Dublin and its main character is Julia Power, a nurse in an obstetrics unit in a hospital decimated by the flu. By the way, World War II is still raging.

The Pull of the Stars

No rating

Little, Brown and Co., 2020

291 pages

Pervasive Superstition   Leave a comment

Hannah Kent has a gift for describing squalor and the role of superstition among the most vulnerable. This talented writer, whose debut novel, Burial Rites, was set in Iceland, now transports readers to rural Ireland in The Good People. The ambiguous title refers to the name given to evil faeries and those with virtuous, albeit misdirected, intentions.

Set in nineteenth century rural Ireland, Kent’s engaging narrative follows three women: Nora, a recent widow, with a sickly grandson; Nance, known for her curative powers; and Mary, the young maid Nora hires to help care for the boy who can neither speak nor walk, although he once did.

Nora’s shame for her grandson is so extreme she keeps him hidden and is surprised to learn from Mary that the villagers know of his presence. In fact, they have already deemed him a changeling, a creature from another world, that of the Good People. How else can the locals explain the ill fortunes that have recently befallen their community: death, cows no longer milking, illness and more.

Nora unsuccessfully seeks medical help, then solace from the new priest who both believe the lad will soon die.

Imagining that her grandson has been abducted and the withered but breathing body is left in his place, Nora turns to Nance who is certain she has a cure. Young Mary empathizes with the helpless child and is caught in the middle. She’s skeptical of the older women and their motives. Yet, the question regarding Nance’s powers lingers.

The Good People
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
380 pages

Irish Storytelling   Leave a comment

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I’m a sucker for a Maeve Binchy novel. Yeah, I know her books are predictable, mushy and fast reads, but she gets me every time. Say what you will, Binchy is a marvelous story teller, and I was saddened to learn she died last summer. A Week in Winter was published posthumously.

Her last work has the requisite characters: independent women who are misled by handsome but unreliable men; ne’er do well young men who, despite the odds, turn their lives around; well-meaning parents who misunderstand their adult children; and, well, many more. For the most part, they are all quite lovely — young and old alike.

Chicky Starr left her family home on Ireland’s west coast as a young twenty-something, only to return some 20-plus years later to renovate an old mansion overlooking the sea as a hotel. Each of the book’s chapters focuses on a different character, while continuing the thread established in getting the hotel ready for guests. Of course, the guests figure prominently in the story. A few names from some of Binchy’s other works find their way into A Week in Winter, which only makes sense: Ireland is not that large a country.

Family relationships, friendships and learning to navigate life are the themes Binchy weaves into her novels; and the Irish landscape is always as important as its inhabitants in her hands.

Binchy has authored 22 books, of which two are nonfiction; I’m glad there are still several I have yet to read.

A Week in Winter
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
326 pages