Irish crime fiction thrives. Many of its leading characters sustain popular series, as droll, dour investigators pursuing miscreants across fogs or bogs. Jeremy Massey brings to this genre a fresh eye. As the third generation heir in his family’s Dublin firm, he has worked as an undertaker. Massey’s insight into the details that many of his Catholic compatriots still follow today to care for their faithful departed enriches his debut novel, The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley.

The story takes place in the middle of October 2014. The precise timing of the chronologically arranged chapters, down to the minute as well as the day, gives Paddy’s narration the look of a diary. The story begins as Paddy’s daily routine, as a gloomy widower at 40, goes awry. Drawn to sorrow shared with the newly widowed wife who calls on him to arrange her late husband’s funeral, Paddy’s predicaments rapidly escalate. This review must avoid plot spoilers, but by halfway into the second of 40 brisk chapters, the reader will be hooked as complications ensnare Paddy.

As publisher’s blurbs betray the main storyline, it can be revealed that after a jolting encounter with the widow, Paddy drives off, quite shaken. It gets worse. At 3 a.m., he accidentally runs down a pedestrian. When Paddy gets out to deliver assistance, he recognizes the fresh corpse of Donal Cullen, brother to a Dublin mobster. Seeing nobody around, Paddy panics and flees.

The next day, his boss assigns Paddy to care for none other than that stiff, as great care must be taken with the kin of Vincent Cullen. Cullen’s henchmen begin to wonder about Paddy. Massey delivers interludes with jittery Paddy and his interlocutors. From boyhood he has trained to remove himself mentally from his body, as if to observe himself at a slight, elevated angle. Paddy struggles with how many of what a confidante calls “the seven veils” he should now take off.

Suspected, Paddy sharpens his skills. Wrenched out of his everyday funk, he entertains the thought he can outwit his pursuers. He confesses that “I was embedded in a fat cake of lies.” Massey’s prose remains matter-of-fact, rarely reflecting any Irish turns of phrase. As with many in his increasingly Anglo-American aping city, speech tends towards the anodyne, losing the wit and inflections once associated with Dublin. Still, the fun of learning the tricks of the trade in the dead—as Paddy defines for us housers, the mute, bring-backs, deliveries, Trocar (sic) and chippings—will regale audiences. Love enters too, along with friendship, plot twists and chases.

While the setting of a funeral home naturally creates the most innovative portion of this thriller, the events themselves rest on coincidences. Granted, despite its size, Dublin stays a small town when it comes to gossip and rumor. This predilection animates the novel. Massey’s craft emerges in Paddy’s reflections and, over this brief span, his bravery as he defies those who seek his doom.

Away from the chaos, Massey succeeds most memorably in the book’s quieter moments. Paddy, preparing for his own departure from the storyline, speaks of his suddenly disorienting and deadly Irish world “as a lesson learned, and I’d be returned to spirit. With this acceptance came a kind of direct knowing, an exultant feeling of arrival, having traveled a long and laborious journey.” Like Prince Hamlet, Paddy Buckley readies himself for a final test against those who strive to match his endgame with their own machinations. How that showdown turns out will be revealed to those who follow him through this labyrinth, on these tense autumn days in Dublin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Exiles: by Dónall Mac Amhlaigh

Finally available in English, these tales portray how the Irish built post-war Britain—lit…