TAPES OF THE RIVER DELTA by Peter Cunningham


Email this review


The knotted history of a modern Irish family is embedded in a quasi-political debut thriller, a combination providing less than stellar results. Sixtyish and desperate, Theo Shortcourse is hiding from the police in the river marshes near his childhood home, recording the brutal chronicle of his life on a tape recorder. Theo describes his rather idyllic childhood on the river with his best friend Pax and his nephew (though they're of the same age) Bain. Theo lives with his mother Sparrow in the grand house built by her father, Sammy Tea, while Bain lives with his drunken mother in a slum with Sparrow's long-estranged husband, Pa Shortcourse. Close as boys, the three choose very different paths in adulthood: Pax, the most moral of the three, joins the Guards while Theo, rejecting work in his father's sausage business, goes into a government post in Customs. Bain takes over Pa Shortcourses's butcher shop and begins grooming himself, with all the cunning wit of a street hustler, for a career in politics. Intermingled with Theo's narrative of these lives is the melodramatic history of his family, a record filled with incest, betrayal, and insanity. Pa Shortcourse, hailed as a hero in the Irish struggle for independence, is exposed as a liar and thief. Sammy Tea, Theo's grandfather, disappeared into a madhouse after impregnating his daughter--resulting in the birth of Sparrow. The three old friends eventually find themselves locked in a lethal conflict. Bain, now prime minister, blackmails Theo to help him pass missiles intended for the IRA through customs. Pax, determined to expose them, is hot on their trail. Though undeniable voyeuristic interest is created in the revelation of Shortcourse family secrets, the political aspect feels tacked on to support a narrative that tends toward the tedious and rambling.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's