The latest of Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor series, this time a prequel depicting protagonist Fingal O’Reilly’s med-student days.
The extended flashback which takes up most of the book begins when Fingal, on his way home to Ballybucklebo, the Ulster village where he is a family doctor, stops at the scene of an accident: Donal Donnelly, Ballybucklebo’s lovable ne’er-do-well, has crashed his motor bike and suffered head trauma. While monitoring Donal’s condition at a nearby hospital, Fingal recalls his clinical training at Trinity College, serving indigent patients from Dublin’s slums. Fingal’s literature professor father was so opposed to Fingal’s chosen career that he refused to bankroll his son’s education, forcing Fingal to spend four years in the merchant marine to earn the tuition. His long-suffering mother, who’d dreamed of being a physician herself, encourages Fingal and eventually his father comes around. At school, Fingal weathers a series of scrapes in between pints of Guinness at the local pub with his three best friends. He ponders getting engaged to Kitty, a student nurse, but failing an exam is enough to convince him that he needs to forego romance for studying. Fingal raises some hackles because he sees his patients as people, not cases: he mourns when his first cardiac patient cannot be saved, and finds a job for an impoverished veteran whom he treated for pneumonia. When his father is diagnosed with leukemia, Fingal wonders if he will live long enough to see his son graduate. Although it will appeal to faithful followers of the series, this book suffers from a plodding pace and a lack of suspense. (There’s never any real question about whether Fingal will earn his degree, or whether he and Kitty will wind up together.) As with other volumes, the principal appeal is in the dialects, local color and, for fans of medical fiction, the detailed descriptions of diagnoses and treatment regimens, both present-day and pre–World War II.
Adheres scrupulously to the motto “first, do no harm.”