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Darling Jim    by Christian Moerk order for
Darling Jim
by Christian Moerk
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Venture into the gothic Darling Jim by Christian Moerk, and visit the small Irish town of Malahide. As far as everyone in this town is concerned, Mrs. Moira Hegarty of #1 Strand Street has lately become a rather eccentric recluse. Even the mailman Desmond Kean thinks she has been more than a little mysterious lately. Mrs. Hegarty does not even seem to have collected her mail over the past several days. Desmond, always curious and eager to know as much as he can about everyone in the village, wonders about Mrs., Hegarty, but he is about to make a horrific and career-ending discovery.

Mrs. Hegarty and her two nieces - young women no one in Malahide knew anything about - are found dead inside the house. The unspeakably hateful brutality of the deaths has everyone talking, but no one can begin to solve the mystery of what really happened inside that house.

Then, as if by accident (though it is nothing of the sort), another worker with the local postal service, Niall Cleary, makes a strange discovery. One of Mrs. Hegarty's nieces had written a secret diary that she had addressed to Anyone At All in the Malahide post office. Niall, an art school drop-out who aspires to become a comic book artist, begins to read the young woman's diary: 'Dear unknown good friend. Listen carefully as I tell you what happened.' From that moment, Niall is about to enter a different phase in his life. 'He couldn't know it then, {but} his life - or the repetitive existence he'd so far known it as - would never be the same again.'

By reading the diary, Niall begins to learn some terrible truths about the author, twenty-four year old Fiona Walsh, and her sister, twenty-two year old Rosie Walsh. Niall also learns that the solution to the macabre mystery surrounding the apparently hateful horrors of #1 Strand Street will take him away from Malahide to another town, Castletownbere, where he makes some incredible discoveries about Mrs. Moira Hegarty and the orphaned Fiona, Rosie, and a missing third sister named Aoife.

In Castletownbere, Niall also discovers that someone else had written about the Walsh sisters' experiences, and one common element - an enigmatic, seductive charmer named Jim Quick - seems to be the one factor that holds everything and everyone together.

Niall soon learns that the answers that he obsessively seeks involve 'something far stronger and more combustible than hate.' In fact, the origins of all that happened in the house on #1 Strand Street would be found in 'the kind of love that burns hotter than a blast furnace.' How could love, though, turn into something so strange, violent, and tragic?

The answer to that question is to be found in Christian Moerk's highly recommend Darling Jim. Moerk adroitly fuses different types of literature into a first-rate novel that is paradoxically entertaining and disturbing at the same time. Part murder mystery, part Grimm's fairy tale, part Gothic horror thriller, and part love story, Moerk's first novel to be published in America is a compelling, chilling page-turner for readers who enjoy imaginatively macabre mythic narratives.

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth (Rating:2):

Niall, a young postman in Dublin, Ireland, finds a curious diary in the post office's dead-letter bin. At the same time, the bodies of two sisters and their aunt are found dead in mysterious circumstances. Relieved of his duties, Niall goes in search of the women's backgrounds, using the diary as a guide. He finds himself in southwestern Ireland in a small village that is inundated by strangers mourning the death of a man who was dubbed Darling Jim.

Jim had arrived in that wee town classing himself as a seanchai, a storyteller. Seanchais were revered at one time in Ireland as they told the tales that were not written down and were skilled at holding their audiences' attention. As did Darling Jim. He also held the women's attention in another and far more dangerous way. Women were dying strangled or beaten to death. Jim's story is told through this and another diary. Niall runs for his life when he is accused of child molestation.

Mystical and magical, Darling Jim by Christian Moerk is an unusual tale that is hard to put down. Cleverly working the seanchai's story into the plot, Moerk holds the reader's attention. Pages fly by as the reason for the women's deaths evolves. Makes one wonder if the old adage nature or nurture holds here.

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