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St. James tells a strong, ironic tale of pre-WW II Ireland in about 250 pages here; unfortunately, however, this novel is about 650 pages long--with the latter 400 stretching on into the 1960s as the melodrama becomes ever more predictable, hokey, and plodding. Three young men of contrasting backgrounds are the steady focus of the early, superior chapters: Sean Connors, son of shrewd Dublin politician Pat (an Easter Rising hero who favored the Treaty, becoming fiercely anti-IRA); Matt Riordan, son of a ruthless IRA guerrilla, driven from Dublin to Belfast by Connors Sr.'s anti-terrorist campaign; and Mark Averdale, cool young inheritor of the Averdale title and fortune, at the very zenith of Belfast-Protestant society. During the late 1930s, handsome Sean (apolitical, ambitious) becomes a teenage Dublin reporter, then manages to buy the newspaper (at 17!)--from blasÉ owner Lord Averdale--through a neat financial maneuver. Meanwhile, Matt Riordan, further politicized by Belfast horrors, follows his father into IRA terrorism--blowing up Lord Averdale's mansion, vowing revenge on the Connors family. Meanwhile, too, Lord A. becomes kinkily obsessed with Sheila O'Brien, an employee's wife, and with Sheila's wee daughter Kate. And eventually, the Connors/Riordan feud will come to a 1939 boil in the very same town where Lord A. is pursuing his passion!--resulting in a chaotic crossfire that kills Sean's father, Matt's father, and the O'Briens, whose two children are adopted by Lord A. After this powerful (if a bit contrived) drama, alas, the following decades bring mostly anticlimaxes and belaborings. Lord A. creepily raises little Kate to be his future bride, her brother Tim to be his heir; Kate (after some gratuitous lesbian tangles) does become Lord A.'s mistress--but he's killed by Mau Maus in 1950s Kenya. Matt, still vowing vengeance, does IRA bombings, escapes from prison, etc., till helping to found the Provos. Sean is a top WW II London newscaster, questions Irish neutrality, makes a postwar fortune, eventually falling madly in 1960s love. . . with Kate, of course. And, before this humdrum pinwheel of plots comes to its obvious, clunkily foreshadowed conclusion, there'll be limp mini-rehashes of dozens of historical events. Again, as in The Money Stones and The Balfour Conspiracy, St. James' writing is often better than his plotting; the result is an initially absorbing saga that becomes flatter and flatter (likewise the half-appealing characters) as it lumbers along.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow