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OLD GOD’S TIME by Sebastian Barry Kirkus Star


by Sebastian Barry

Pub Date: March 14th, 2023
ISBN: 9780593296103
Publisher: Penguin

This complex quasi-mystery centers on a former cop’s reckoning with the damage caused by sexually abusive priests.

The narrator is Tom Kettle, a 66-year-old widower living in Dalkey, Ireland. He’s nine months into retirement from a decorated career with the Dublin police when two Garda officers ask him to look at reports from an old unsolved murder case he worked on years earlier. A priest under investigation for pedophilia has made disturbing accusations regarding the murderer. Kettle, whose wife and two adult children suffered brutal deaths in the previous 10 years, is already coping with too many memories, unwanted and otherwise. Much of the narrative is a very accessible stream of consciousness. Even as Kettle's mind drifts, he also must deal with the hard realities that arise from police procedure, like evidence gathering, interviews at headquarters, and the suspicions of his former boss. The unsolved case crucially turns his thoughts to the first night of his honeymoon and his wife’s “sorrowful revelations” of childhood abuse: “The rapes, the bloody priests.” It’s her abuser who was murdered. The novel avoids any pat responses to questions of crime and punishment, although even the dutiful cop in Kettle leans toward rough justice where the young are involved. Barry is a resourceful Irish writer with a gift for empathy and lyrical prose. Many of his novels weave Irish immigrants into the broader tapestry of global history in the past two centuries. But Kettle’s story hinges on domestic events, on years of priests’ sexual abuse of children in Ireland. Barry’s tight focus on one retired lawman and the ghosts bedeviling him provides a compelling sense of the misery the Catholic Church knew it was causing and failed to salve.

An eloquent, affecting take on pedophilia.