My Rating: 3 out of 5
When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland’s west coast, he brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the village’s lies.
His arrival causes cheeks to flush and arms to fold in disapproval. No one in the village – living or dead – will tell what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby, despite Mahony’s certainty that more than one of them has answers.
Between Mulderrig’s sly priest, its pitiless nurse and the caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and darkly comic debut novel creates an unforgettable world of mystery, bloody violence and buried secrets.
I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley and Canongate Books for providing me with this copy.
There is something Stephen King-esque about this novel. The combination of a small “local village for local people”, a suspected murder, untruths, half-truths, deception, and a smattering of the supernatural could easily come from King’s fictional town of Castle Maine. Instead the book sends us to a village in rural Ireland, but with all the same ingredients. It works well.
Mahony arrives in Mulderrig from Dublin, cocky, charmingly scruffy, with the requisite murky past, and a score to settle. He was given to an orphanage as a baby, and knows nothing more of his heritage than the photo he has of his mother. He wants answers, and is unlikely to get them easily.
The story jumps between two timelines: Mahony’s present (the 1970’s), and his mother Orla’s (the late-1940’s). The timeline is indicated at the top of every chapter, which is useful for clarity, but becomes repetitive where there are multiple chapters in a row from the same timeline. The use of two timelines doesn’t feel entirely necessary as Orla’s timeline is much less used and less developed, but does add a few suspenseful scenes and leaves a sprinkling of cliff-hangers through the book which certainly add to its page-turning qualities.
As Mahony seeks to find out who his parents were, and what happened to his Mother, he inevitably makes friends and enemies. A fringe few share his suspicions that his mother met an unsavoury fate. The majority are happy to follow the village-line that the she just left town one day, and it was Orla herself who gave Mahony to the orphanage. Those who consider themselves the guardians of the town’s morality naturally take offence to his questions, and seek first to derail his enquiries, and then to derail Mahony himself.
Mahony’s roguish ways lead to threats made against him, and some to fall in love with him. Their desires become helpful and obstructive by equal measure.
The pinnacle moment comes when the unseen forces of the village seem to step in. The aftermath reveals everyone for who they truly are, and answers are finally unearthed.
This small-town supernatural mystery-thriller is a fun read. Whilst the writing is a little clunky in places, it is nicely plotted and executed. It is easy to keep turning the pages, and rewards with a near-apocalyptic climax and a neat, satisfying ending.
This is a great first novel from Jess Kidd. I look forward to reading more of her titles in the future.