The Keening by Anne Emery

This is a dual timeline novel set in 2917/18 and the late 16th/early 17th centuries in Northern Ireland. In the 20th century story, Mick Tierney who runs the Tierney Hotel for his father is faced with the threat of a large development, including a casino being built between the hotel and the view of the River Erne, in the midst of which is a Castle on an island. Mick comes up with the idea of bringing in archaeologists to dig up the land round about because a guesthouse stood there four hundred years earlier. If historical artifacts are found, the development will be stopped or at least delayed. Mick’s grandmother warns him not to do it because she is afraid of what will be found.

Which brings us to 1595 and Brigid Tierney, who runs the guesthouse for her brother Diarmait. She attends a gathering at the island castle along with her friend Sorcha who is also a doctor and a seer.  The next morning, Sorcha is found dead near her home with two arrows in her. After an investigation, Brigid’s man and the father of her two children, Shane O’Callahan is accused of the murder.

I hardly know where to begin with this book. One of the best aspects is a treasure trove of information about Irish law, customs and culture. Some truly fascinating tid-bits are offered up. The dialogue skips along (mostly) and some is pure gold. ‘The tide’s nearly out’, meaning the beer is almost gone, and the number of words a man can use to insult another is astonishing. The reader can hear the Irish brogue throughout the modern story.

As the story of Brigid and Shane progresses, shocking facts are revealed that are far worse than anything the modern grandmother could have imagined. At the same time they live in fear that the English will cross the border into Ulster and they will lose the guesthouse.

This was an interesting story and an enjoyable read, although the end was unexpected and horrific. I recommend it for those who particularly enjoy Irish history.


Where Irises never grow by Paulette Mahurin

This is a dual time line story set in the late twenty first century and during WWII. While researching her dissertation, Monica Chastain purchases a rare, antique copy of Aesop’s Fables. Inside the spine, she finds a sliver of newsprint with what appears to be a swastika, two names and the date 1942 written in the margin. The two names are Madeline Leblanc and Madeline Eisenberg. With her dissertation finished and accepted, Monica has time on her hands to explore the intriguing note and see where it leads. From that point on, the narrative switches to September 3rd 1939, the day France declared war on Germany and the same day that the parents of a 17 year-old Jew, Agnès Eisenberg, are involved in a fatal accident. Fortunately for Agnès, she is taken in by good friends of her mother’s, Victor and Charlotte Legrand. They live in Lyon, in the area controlled by the Vichy government, where collaboration means the rounding up of Jews for extermination. The Legrands risk their own lives to protect Agnès when she meets and falls in love with a member of the resistance and has a baby. With the arrival of the sadistic Klaus Barbie, the ‘Butcher of Lyon’ the net begins to close in on both Jews and members of the resistance. Barbie’s dungeon is the place where irises, France’s national flower, never grow.

The three main characters are all too human in their weaknesses and strengths, their loyalty, compassion and fears, their oscillating emotions. The author’s prose is so authentic that the reader is inescapably bound with them in the same rooms as they listen for the dread arrival of the Nazis. It is an excruciating depiction of what so many went through during the Hitler regime. I felt their terror and shared their frantic hope for an avenue of escape to open before the Butcher came for them.

The goodness and decency of the Legrands stands in sharp contrast to the viciousness of Klaus Barbie, just as the selfless courage of the resistance, those who helped them and those who risked their lives by sheltering and helping Jews shines all the brighter when compared with the cowardly collaboration of the Vichy Government.

This is an excellent novel, well-written and steeped in the awful atmosphere of Lyon during those years. Some readers might find the descriptions of torture disturbing. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.


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