Taylor (An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War, 2014, etc.) revisits his beloved Irish medico, Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, as he faces new challenges in his practice and reconciles with World War II demons.
The chapters alternate between the mid-1960s in Balleybucklebo and the early 1940s, when O'Reilly left the HMS Warspite for anesthesiology training at the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in Portsmouth. Living ashore provides O'Reilly an opportunity to marry his fiancee, Deirdre. Taylor is superb on how characters live, work, and love each other, and O’Reilly’s deep feeling for Deirdre anchors the tale. Humor and pathos reign as the scene shifts to 1964. At a medical school class reunion, O’Reilly notices former classmate Ronald Fitzgerald displaying signs of illness, but Fitzgerald angrily rejects his gentle observation. Fitzgerald’s a prim, closed-off person, but once his symptoms become critical, he calls O’Reilly, and a friendship blooms. As Balleybucklebo denizens enter, O’Reilly’s associate Barry descends into a funk since his fiancee, Sue, has met a charming French fellow while traveling. The Marquis of Balleybucklebo gets help from O’Reilly’s brother Lars in managing estate inheritance taxes. There’s plenty of ribald humor—"If your man Edgar Redmond there was at a wake, he’d not be satisfied unless he was the feckin’ corpse." The war years show young O’Reilly despairing over the carnage—"the butcher’s bill"—yet heroic in his duties, and in the happier 1960s segments, a thread about positive/negative blood types gets technical, but following along with O’Reilly on house calls through the green fields of Northern Ireland is constant good fun, especially when the local scallawag decides his ten mutt puppies are exotic Woolamarroo quokka herding dogs.
Gentle humor, deeply emotional stories drawn from everyday life—Taylor's books are what Garrison Keillor might have produced if he'd been born in Country Antrim.