THE RED MEN by Patrick McGinley


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McGinley's 1981 debut, Bogmail, was a vigorous, disarming blend of suspense and black-comedy, flavored with Irish ribaldry. But with each subsequent book, the alluring elements in McGinley's work--mystery, comedy, charm--have steadily faded from view; and this fifth novel is a tiresome Irish-gothic stew, heavy with family secrets and sexual compulsions but short on drama, humor, or genuine tension. Anthony ""Gulban"" Heron, 77, is the wealthy owner of a hotel, shop, and farm--with four sons waiting to find out who'll inherit what. The likeliest heir is tough young Jack, a lusty, practical sort; Joey, facially disfigured, is tense, repressed, interested in science; Cookie is a dreamy, literary type; and the oldest, Bosco, is a priest--who at first takes himself out of the inheritance competition, but later decides (as part of a crisis-of-faith) that he should turn the hotel into a home for elderly priests. Before tyrannical Gulban decides on his bequests, however, Jack is accidentally killed--while out carousing with fiancÉe Pauline, Gulban's secretary and all the brothers' longtime love-object. With Jack out of the picture, then, the Heron household becomes a murky psycho-sexual tangle: the three brothers lust for both the estate and Pauline, while Cookie also has affairs with a sexy mother/daughter duo down the road; Gulban, though felled by a stroke, arranges little tests-of-character for his three sons. And, after Gulban's death, predictable bloodline-secrets emerge, leading to confrontations, death, and other final separations. McGinley's prose, often evocative in a fierce, muscular way, provides sporadic pleasure; a few vignettes--Gulban zapping his sons, Cookie's seduction by an earthy matron--have ironic energy. But, with unengaging characters, uncoordinated themes, and a plot that has all the implausibility (but none of the narrative momentum) of a pulp family-melodrama, this is pretentious, disappointing work from a talented writer.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's