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 Personal tragedy wrought by misguided political action keeps an Irish town on edge for nearly 30 years, in this forceful if flawed American debut from Irish ÇmigrÇ and former priest Phelan. No love is lost in portraying the Catholic Church and its representative, Father Quinn, a rabid nationalist whose support of Hitler from the pulpit during WW II and decades-long hounding of his parishioners for money to add an unneeded wing to the church have left them wary and quietly resentful. But the central figure here is Seannie Doolin, a 40-year-old boy whose intelligence and musical genius were snuffed out in childhood when he was forced to watch his twin brother murdered by an IRA team (the boys had inadvertently witnessed an assassination). The participants in that night's work have lived uneasily with the memory ever since, with Seannie's ravaged face (a blind eye, the result of a rock thrown at him when his brother was killed) and wraithlike presence a constant reminder. McKenna, the town doctor, has been drunk for 27 years, while another of the team has become a virtual monk, but the response of the vicious Mahon, who would have pulled the trigger but for an impatient comrade, has been to cover his tracks by killing the killer--who called him a coward--and by terrorizing Seannie at every chance. The night before the new church is to be dedicated, the past returns in deadly earnest, as Mahon's near- fatal beating of Seannie awakens the man in the boy, and he finally takes his revenge for what happened to his brother. Quinn, the IRA leader who ordered the mission, then washed his hands of it, is also called to account. Told from each man's perspective, Phelan's debut is initially a complex, even riveting narrative, catching especially well the fractured workings of Seannie's mind, but too many voices and a clichÇd howler of a climax prove the story's undoing.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 1-56858-074-6
Page count: 230pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1996