Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

June 1887 was one of the hottest and driest on record. AJuneOfOrdinaryMurdersNo breeze. No rain. Excessive heat. The city of Dublin was abuzz with activity, preparing for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Celebration and a visit by Princes Albert Victor and George. The Dublin police force was busy making sure the city was secure, with rarely a man to spare. It was Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow of the Dublin Metropolitan Police G-Division who, on Friday, June 17, caught the murder that took place in Chapelizod Gate. a young man in his twenties along side a young boy aged approximately 8-9 years old. They were shot at close range and their faces were marred to delay identity. With no identifying papers, identification could takes weeks.

It was three days later, on Monday, June 20, that a young girl, aged approximately 20 was found under a barge in the locks in the Grand Canal. Her head was bashed in and she was virtually unrecognizable. Could the three murders be related? Having botched a previous murder investigation, Swallow needs a quick and satisfactory conclusion to these murders. But of course, he is blocked on multiple fronts.

Brady’s debut novel is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. A combination of murder mystery and historical novel, he provides a reasonable explanation of the political situation in Dublin at the time…many Dubliners’ dissatisfaction with the Queen, the residue of the famine 40 years previous still impacting life in Ireland, the tensions between landowner and tenant farmer.

The 1880s also brought with it the beginnings of forensic investigation. There were experiments with facial reconstruction based on facial bones and muscles. Investigative technicians were able to determine whether a specific bullet came from a specific gun based on the grooves in the bullet. And the uniqueness of fingerprints was being researched. Crime scenes must be kept pure. (An early version of CSI?) Brady brings all of these into play in A June of Ordinary Murders.

He makes the extreme heat and discomfort palpable to the readers. Readers will feel like they are alongside Swallow, his ‘book man” Mossop (think Harry Bosch’s murder book), and fellow officers. Swallow is a mystery lover’s policeman. The law is the law and it must be obeyed, but he’ll stretch the limits of the law in order to get his man (and suffer the consequences…which we may see, if there’s a sequel, which I certainly hope there is). A June of Ordinary Murders was quite the satisfying read. I highly recommend it for all mystery lovers.

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DeathOfSantiniGosh, what to say about The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy. I could and will say that if you read The Great Santini, you’ve read some of this Conroy biography, but certainly not all of it. I could say I liked the book but it’s not a book you ‘like’, it’s a book you get sucked into because there’s so much raw emotion going on…love, hate, racism, abuse, family, sorrow, joy. When I first started reading The Death of Santini, I was appalled at Don Conroy’s treatment of his wife and children and no one would have faulted me for putting the book down. But on I went, to the very last page.GreatSantini

The Death of Santini is a raw book, not filled with flowery language. It is the factual recounting of Pat Conroy’s life as the son of Don and Peg Conroy, the union of an Irish Catholic from Chicago and a poor southern girl from the Appalachian mountains whose mother abandoned her family at the height of the depression, leaving them with nothing. Pat and his six siblings moved around a lot, the life of a Marine family, were the recipients of beatings from an abusive father and the fallout from this was everlasting and widespread and powerful.

I’m not sure why Conroy felt compelled to write this book since it’s predecessor, though fiction, pretty well recounted many incidents in the current book. It felt like he had to purge himself of his demons, his guilt at standing idly by while siblings were abused, his hatred, or more accurately love-hate emotion towards his father, his adoration of his beautiful but surely imperfect mother, his dives into the depths of depression, his distance from his sister.

But as you read, you see Conroy’s problem. Children love their parents, typically, yet both his parents, to some extent, were abusive. What is a boy and then a man supposed to feel? Two of his siblings were spiraling towards mental illness, yet his parents refused to acknowledge it and Pat was powerless.

As Conroy introduces you to his northern and southern relatives you learn so many things: (1) abuse, while maybe not genetically transferred, certainly runs in families and is transferred to following generations, nor is it limited to liberally or conservatively thinking people, (2) racism is not only a Southern emotion, (3) the impact of dysfunctional families is widespread and deep.

I’ll conclude by telling you, as I did in the beginning, I’m not sure I ‘liked” The Death of Santini. I’m glad I read it and will highly recommend it to others, but did I like it? Hmmmm. No. If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece with flowery language, I suggest you look elsewhere. The Death of Santini is, at times, disjointed (as is this review) and repetitious within itself. However, it has a cast of interesting, unimaginable characters that some of the most able fiction writers could never conceive. It didn’t make me laugh. It didn’t make me cry. Coming from a ‘relatively’ normal family, I think it made me sit there in disbelief.

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For some reason, I always have trouble summarizing a Sharon Creech book and The Great Unexpected is no exception. So, maybe I’ll just give you a sample from the book.

Naomi and Lizzie are 12 year old best friends in Blackbird Tree. On the first day of school their teacher gave an assignment to write about their families. “So the next day, we straggled in with our precious essays about our ragtag families. She made us read aloud. Well, the first five people, that is. Angie lived with a foster family with eight children and four donkeys and seven cats and three snakes. Her real parents were still in jail. Lizzie lived with her foster parents, who were definitely going to be her adoptive parents…Her real mother had had headaches…; her father died ‘of the maximum grief’. Carl lived with his uncle, who lost both his legs in a car wreck, and so Carl had to do all the cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping and it wasn’t too bad except when his uncle got ahold of the liquor. Delano said he wasn’t allowed to write about his family while they were under investigation. And then there was me. I told about my mother givng birth to me and on the second day of my life, she looked at me and said, “Gosh, I feel peculiar,” and then she dropped me on her stomach and died of a blood splot that went where it wasn’t supposed to go. I started to tell about how my father died of an infection, but the teacher stopped me.”

What does this have to do with anything? Well, one day, Naomi is walking in the woods and an unfamiliar boy falls out of a tree and knocks her over. This opens the door to Ms. Creech introducing interesting characters in both Blackbird Tree on this side of the ocean as well characters in Ireland “Across the Ocean”. And there is a connection, that, through fantasy and innuendo and wonderful writing, Ms. Creech makes credible and fun. And, I’m sure you can guess, by the sample of the book I gave you, it’s all about family.

Sharon Creech is one of a handful of authors, who writes wonderful books for that hard to write for age, 8-12, along with Joan Bauer (who maybe writes for a slightly older age bracket), Kathi Appelt, Rebecca Stead, to name a few. Give your children and yourself a treat with The Great Unexpected.

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