Tag Archives: Ireland

Treason at Lisson Grove – Anne Perry

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Really, I was so glad to find an Anne Perry crime story on the library shelves I could have wept.  No experimental literary fails. No mind-numbing clog of words to cut through. No plot that assumes I have the intelligence of a dung beetle and not one iota more than its sophistication. (Sincere apologies to dung beetles.) Just a well-made Victorian thriller with Charlotte and Thomas Pitt sharing the honors and the remarkable Vespasia in a brilliant and essential cameo role. Treason at Lisson Grove was a delight.

I read it until I couldn’t make out the words anymore just before turning out the light. I read it in line waiting for free tickets to the Shakespeare Festival in the park–didn’t score any but the weather was perfect. I read it after the daily agony of coaxing my wheezing laptop through the tedious research needed to write web content that syphons off all the time I should be writing a book. It was excellent Anne Perry, which is to say that the story and the characters and the dilemma hold up splendidly and spending time in that book was pure pleasure.

Treachery is everywhere in the Special Branch and the very future of England is at stake as Thomas Pitt chases a spooked informant down alleys and through traffic with the help of a junior colleague. He is too late. The informant is stabbed–throat slit–moments before Pitt reaches him and the two detectives set off in pursuit of a murderer. So it begins. Pitt has no idea what he is pursuing. He and the colleague end up in France just as his mentor, the head of Special Branch, is ignominiously removed from office under the cloud of an embezzlement that cost an Irish collaborator who trusted him his life. Tip of the iceberg. Victor Narraway has painful ghosts in Ireland, and plenty of the living with long memories who hate him enough to nurture revenge plots for decades. So he plans to leave at once for Dublin.

Charlotte Pitt doesn’t hesitate to inform Narraway she is going along to help discover the truth. If his career is ruined, so is her husband’s–and her family homeless, no hope of work or an income to raise their children, everyone out to menial jobs, even the kids. Besides, she believes Narraway has been framed and she sees how completely wrecked his life is without the job that defines it. Her dour new housekeeper chooses that moment to walk out. Pitt is incommunicado in France on a stakeout. Things couldn’t be worse. And then Pitt realizes he has been set up to remove him from London just as some dark political plot is about to unfold.

Complete craziness in Dublin, Dover, London and the Isle of Wight follows. Treason at Lisson Grove is very good. Anne Perry is so reliable.  More than fifty books in four separate series. I wish I could write that fast and that well.

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel  Anne Perry | Ballantine Books   2011

False Mermaid – Erin Hart

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False Mermaid is the common name of a marsh plant that may hold the key to an unsolved murder in a desolate boggy area by the Mississippi in Minnesota. The term can be stretched to cover the legend of the selkies that is still recounted in a seal harbor off the West coast of Ireland. In Erin Hart’s murder mystery, False Mermaid, Nora Gavin, an American pathologist who studies bog people, cannot let go of the horrific murder of her younger sister and her conviction that her brother-in-law is to blame.

Nora was the serious sister, following in her scientist father’s footsteps. Triona was the dreamer, fantacist, actress, a beauty in love with the magic in life. She left behind a six-year-old daughter and devastated parents—and the puzzle of who bashed her face in and stuffed her body in the trunk of her car. Nora leaves a committed lover in Dublin and decamps for Minnesota and home, after three years away, searching for closure and proof of guilt to nail Triona’s handsome husband.

Villains and plots abound. Nora reconnects with a troubled detective who keeps the cold case alive and nurtures a major crush on her. The widower announces he is about to remarry, the new bride is the  sister of his college best friend and former fiancé of Nora’s. Nora is afraid her brother-in-law plans to murder again—not entirely sure why—and this imposes a looming deadline to solve the case. She has issues with her parents, issues with her Irish boyfriend, issues with the besotted detective—just a lot of issues for this girl. Actually, nearly every character in the book has family issues–a therapist’s dream cast.

Then another body is discovered by a Cambodian refugee who escapes from his own issues by fishing along the riverbank every morning. Lot of muck in this book. A catrillion coincidences start to occur and evidence begins to pop up all over the place. This isn’t wholly credible in a cold case—clues seldom just sit around waiting for people to re-examine what they have already combed exhaustively, but whatever. Seals and legends materialize,  from Seattle to County Donegal. Mercifully there are no seals in the Mississippi.

I love selkie legends as much as anyone but a seal that somehow migrates within days from Puget Sound to the Atlantic off the Northwest Irish coast must have its own frequent flyer card. A lot in this book seems stuffed in to make it a page-turner. There are very flakey motives offered, when there are motives at all. Relationships seem oddly superficial. Not convincing. Just. Not.

The Irish and the folklore and the place names and the rugged coast could rope in a Celtic romantic like me. But the novel felt awkward and amateurish—not exactly terrible but definitely disappointing. In the end, the villains were cardboard cut-outs and I didn’t even care about the kid. Pity. I would have adored a good selkie murder mystery. Selkies are really cool.  

False Mermaid   Erin Hart | Scribner   2010

Sun Dancing – Geoffrey Moorhouse

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Skellig Michael is a massive rock that sticks up out of the Atlantic Ocean off the West coast of Ireland. It is the sort of barren place that is home only to puffins, gulls and seals. But a community of monks lived on the rock for six hundred years—from roughly 588 to 1200 AD. The partly-imagined story of that monastic austerity is the subject of Geoffrey Moorhouse’s Sun Dancing, A Vision of Medieval Ireland.

Moorhouse gathers copious research into the luminous bits of a manuscript that tracks what might have happened as a small band of monks set out in a skin curach, a keelless boat that would take them where their God wanted them to establish a monastery and hermitage. It took them on a preternaturally calm sea, to Skellig Michael, where they hewed steep stairs out of the rock, built stone huts and carved pools to catch rainwater. The rock was nearly unapproachable so their rare boatloads of bread and meager supplies from the mainland got through once or twice a year when the weather and the seas permitted.

The story of the adaptation to the isolation, the austerity and the silence is as interesting as any adventure tale. Viking raids were slow to reach them but had a horrifying effect when they did. Some of the monks illustrated and copied books, others repaired the seine and fished, still others wrestled a small garden for vegetables from the thin rocky ground. They paused many times a day for prayer and they struggled with their inner demons in an effort to reach what we would probably call enlightenment. A few slipped from the perilous cliffs and died. Even fewer fell victims to hubris, shut themselves away as hermits and destroyed themselves. No one ate very much. Older monks mentored younger monks as anamchara or soul friends and confessors.

The first part of the book is the fiction-based-on-known-facts story of the settlement. This is followed by a section-by-section examination of the available research and what the times and the monks can tell us about medieval Ireland and the transition from pantheistic Druidical beliefs to papist Christianity—the Catholicism of Rome. The monks were very aware of their monastic precedents–the practices of the Desert Fathers and other anchorites influenced their views of their own vocations and chosen lifestyle. I found it fascinating. I know so little history of that time and Moorhouse makes a coherent picture of the slow passage of time on the rock and the evolution of the wider culture on the mainland over centuries of great change.

Sun Dancing—the name is taken from descriptions of transcendent or hallucinatory visions of fasting faithful at sunrise—is a nearly vanished piece of history brought to life, in typical Irish tradition, in the words of a skillful storyteller.

Sun Dancing: Life in a Medieval Irish Monastery and How Celtic Spirituality Influenced the World  Geoffrey Moorhouse | Harcourt, Brace & Company   1997