It’s impossible to calculate the ramifications of the potato blight in mid-nineteenth century Ireland. The Great Irish Famine led not only to the death of an estimated million people, but also to the exodus of two million more. Where they went, and what they did when they got there, has forever enriched the history and literature of both the United States and Canada.
I’ve just discovered THE O’BRIENS, the sweeping saga Peter Behrens has written about one such family. Joe O’Brien is an ambitious backwoods boy; his grandfather fled the potato famine, and emigrated to Pontiac County, Quebec. Joe is also escaping, trying to distance himself from poverty. When his father is killed in the Boer War, Joe is forced to be the family patriarch at thirteen. Undaunted, by fifteen he owns a successful lumber company. A brutal stepfather brings pain and misery to the family; the action has long reaching consequences. Joe finally makes it all the way to Venice, California, and experiences romance, heartache, and much more in this multigenerational tale.
Gerard O’Donovan is also new to me, but he’s a real star in the Irish crime writers universe. Having been born in Cork, he grew up in Dublin, and held a number of jobs ranging from gherkin bottler to philosophy tutor before finally finding his calling as a writer. His maiden venture, THE PRIEST, won high praise, and an audience awaiting further adventures of hero Mike Mulcahy. The drugs specialist, newly returned from Europe, intuits that there’s more to the sexual assaults committed by the title character than just a maniac on a rampage. When the crime escalates to murder, Mulcahy must enlist the help of reporter Siobhan Fallon to uncover the deeper religious implications of the offences.
O’Donovan fans are delighted to now also have DUBLIN DEAD, which begins a year after his previous mystery ends. Mike Mulcahy is still recovering from the trauma of his experience with the murderous sociopath known as “The Priest.” In his work for Ireland’s National Drugs Unit, he discovers that a supposed suicide is tied in with a much larger circle of crime. Although warned off, Siobhan Fallon also finds herself intrigued by the chain of events. Together, they must deal with an abandoned cocaine shipment off the coast, the killing of an Irish gangster in Spain, and their feelings for each other.
GOING GREEN has nothing to do with Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day, but I couldn’t resist the play on the meaning of the color. Author Chris Skates has worked extensively in the field of nuclear power and environmental compliance. He also has a pretty good sense of humor; he refers to his wife Tracy as a “recovering English teacher.” His novel, not surprisingly, revolves around an environmental engineer named Ashley Miller. Her knowledge could unhinge an international conspiracy, and greatly influence developments in the United States. Expect the unexpected from Skates; he expresses certain views that are not always popular. I especially like the question he poses in the book’s afterward: In a world approaching seven billion people, is there nothing positive to be said about the health and economic benefits of an industrial base? Chris Skates presents a new and original voice in the realm of fact based fiction.
Just for fun, there’s POCKET POSH IRISH, a little book of puzzles and quizzes, ideal for tuning out the world while on the train, or for making time spent at the airport drag a little less. And how can you not love a Wordsearch that challenges us to find Bono, Michael Collins, and G.B. Shaw in a letter jumble?
Green is the color of spring, of the environment, and of course, St. Patrick’s Day. Green is the promise that tomorrow just might be even better than today.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com