Before completely falling apart in its second half, this first novel from an Irish writer displays a distinct talent for eccentric comedy with a darkish glint. The narrator is half-Irish, half-Rumanian Alexis--and in the book's mostly diverting first section he tells of his brief late-1920s visit, as a seven-year-old orphan, to the South-of-France manse of his rich old Rumanian grandfather. In the few days covered here, little Alexis listens at length to his grandfather's witty, bitter, educational ramblings (dirty limericks, the meaning of ""onomatopoeia""); he stares at his three married, middle-aged aunts and plays doctor with his 15-year-old aunt Valerie; he gets some enlightenment about the estrangement between his grandfather and his dead parents (both of whom more or less committed suicide); and, after his grandfather's sudden death (an apparent heart attack) and a raging fire (set by crazy Aunt V.), he shares a hotel bed with Aunt Olga and Uncle Malcolm. . . both of whom he sees in sexually revealing moments. After this odd, wickedly intriguing first half, however, Alexis' narration drifts through a series of disjointed episodes over the years: his decision, back home in Ireland, to become a seminarian (despite a disillusioning encounter with a flatulent Redemptorist); his vain attempt to help his unwed, pregnant cousin Moira; his self-defrocking, after WW II Intelligence service; his postwar life in N.Y., where he finds his Jewish-refugee landlord dead, buries him secretly, and lives off the estate; and his sexual re-encounter with Aunt V. in the 1960s (she's now a Warhol porno-lady) after 37 years of having remained celibately faithful to the childhood vision of Aunt Olga. Unfortunately, because the characterization of Alexis is sketchy to the point of invisibility, none of this hangs together; likewise, the novel's main twist--that Alexis is really a murderer responsible for all the deaths he has encountered--registers as a totally ineffectual gimmick. A shaky, patchy debut, then, but the first half offers one exuberantly voiced character (the grandfather) and a promising feel for grim, black-comic doings.