Saturday, October 10, 2009

Family Life

Paul Charles
I’d like to begin this book review with a scene from Gone With The Wind. Katie Scarlett’s upset because Ashley is going to marry Miss Melly. In an attempt to cheer her up her Irish father tells her he’s going to leave her Tara, his big cotton plantation in Georgia. Scarlett is only a slip of girl; she’s not impressed or grateful. She says, “Plantations don’t mean anything to me.”
And Gerald O’Hara says, “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
“Oh Pa, you speak like an Irishman!”
Cue a panoramic sunset, and a crescendo of emotive music.
Family Life by Paul Charles is set in rural Ireland. The story opens at a birthday dinner for Liam Sweeney, a prosperous farmer. His grown-up children have travelled with their families to Donegal to join in the celebrations. They are gathered in the farmhouse dining room, impatiently waiting for Joe, the youngest son, who still lives at home.
Inspector Starrett the local policeman arrives with very bad news. Joe’s body has been found near the docks in Ramelton and he has been murdered.
Joe is a good and decent man; he has no known enemies and has never been in trouble so Starrett is forced to focus his investigation on Joe’s family. He finds it hard to believe Joe’s parents could ever have killed him so this leaves only his siblings. And they seem to have plenty of motivation, for on the death of their father it was Joe who was going to inherit the farm. And the land is worth a pure fortune. It’s in a development zone and Joe’s sister-in-law Mona knows a developer desperate to buy it; he’s offering 12 million euro. Mona, a clever solicitor, has been stirring trouble within the family; there have been heated discussions and rows as to why the farm cannot be broken up into four pieces and each sibling get a share. Mona has pride of place at the top of the prime suspect’s list until Liam Sweeney, the grieving father, makes a shocking and spontaneous confession – he says he killed Joe. Incontrovertible evidence is found at the scene which appears to incriminate Liam. But the Inspector is not convinced of his guilt. He has known Liam all his life and cannot believe he could kill his own son. He digs deeper in his efforts to discover the identity of the real murderer...
The success of a detective story often hinges on the winsomeness of the detective. My personal favourite is Lord Peter Wimsey, the eccentric, aristocratic amateur, but I think Inspector Starrett deserves a generous mention. He’s a gentle, ruminative soul. As a young man he tried for the priesthood and failed; he likes tea and buns; he struggles to give up smoking. He’s not a show-off and he does not have issues with strong drink, hard women or fast food. I imagine him very charming and softly spoken and his Donegal accent would be music to my ears...
Paul Charles is from Magherafelt and writing novels is not his only career. For the past thirty years he’s been an agent and music promoter for a wide range of brilliant singers, among them Christy Moore and Tanita Tikaram. This would probably be enough for most people but Paul Charles is also a prolific writer: Family Life is his eleventh novel, his second featuring Inspector Starrett. Before that he wrote nine Inspector Christie Kennedy mysteries, set in Camden Town, London, and several books about music.
VERDICT: A well paced story with a thoroughly convincing character line-up and a very believable plot. And I would know - I’m from the country!