Monday, January 19, 2009
Darling Jim, the intense new thriller from Christian Moerk, opens with a mystery: On his daily rounds, a mailman discovers the body of a woman, dead in her home. When the police arrive, they discover much more: There are 2 more dead bodies hidden in rooms behind locked doors. The bodies come to be identified as those of Moira Hegarty and her two young nieces, Fiona and Roisin Walsh. As the story behind these brutal murders deepens, Fiona's diary is discovered by cartoonist and postal sorter Niall. Niall, entranced with the diary of the dead woman, embarks on a journey to the Walsh's sisters hometown in Ireland to discover the answers to the cryptic clues Fiona left behind. And what he discovers is the family's link to Jim, an itinerant storyteller traveling throughout the area telling his stories at local pubs each night. As Niall follows the clues, he learns of the complicated and cruel fate that Jim spins among the women and of his legion of female fans that follow him all over the country. But there is more to Darling Jim, as he comes to be known. Jim spins an elaborate fable that not only draws his listeners in, but also houses the keys to his dark soul and wicked intentions. Niall's search becomes a race against time after discovering the existence a third missing sister, who may have escaped the fate of her family but who still may be in danger. Niall's journey becomes a long and difficult odyssey as he comes face to face with peril and jeopardy with every step he takes in order to save the surviving sister's honor, and possibly even her life.
This was an extraordinarily clever book, and it was a pleasure to relish each and every twist and turn in the story. Written with verve and acuity, the author seemed to have a great handle on timing, believability and dialogue. The characters were quirky and atypical, and each held their own distinctive personality and style throughout the story. The sisters' voices, coming from beyond the grave, expertly captured both their outrage at their situation and their determination for escape.
I admit, I didn't think this book was going to be as fun as it ended up being. I mean, with a triple murder haunting the opening pages, one does not expect fun. But the narrative had definite humor mixed with its pathos in a way I didn't expect. I found myself laughing at the oddness and eccentricities within the pages, especially the colorful colloquialisms in the sisters' wordplay. I really liked Niall, who began the story as a lonely loser but soon came to be an adventuresome and unlikely hero. Niall's commitment to the sisters he had never met was touching, and I felt it impossible not to root for this lovable and bumbling character. Jim, too, was interesting, a deliberate and dastardly foe, and his presence resonated through the pages, even when he wasn't the focus of the narrative. He had a dark charisma that made even the most stalwart of women smitten with him.
One of the winning things about this story were the sections of the book devoted to the ominous fairy tale that Jim created. This technique was particularly inventive, essentially hiding a story within a story. In fact, this book actually contained three stories: the main narrative, Jim's story, and the back story related by Fiona's dairy. Each of these stories was captivating in different ways, but all worked together and blended well and kept the level of suspense tight and controlled throughout the book. Another thing that I liked was the author's command of the elements and language of his story. He was aptly descriptive without being verbose, and the action and grist of the plot never veered off into unbelievability or precociousness. Though I did guess at one of the aspects of the conclusion of the novel, I wasn't at all disappointed because I thoroughly enjoyed the ride that took me there and appreciated the thought and creativity that the author put into this book.
This was not a common story, it had a lot of spunk and vivacity, and kept me turning the pages in anticipation. This is the first novel from Moerk, and based on this book, I will be on the lookout for his next work. I would recommend this book to those who like quick witted mysteries/thrillers with a generous helping of humor. A really fun read.