Mahony steps off a bus and walks into Mulderrig all Dublin swagger.
With good looks like that, thinks Tadgh, the fella is either a poet or a gobshite, with the long hair and the leather jacket and the walk on it, like his doesn’t smell.
Within days the people of the town are either furious about his return, madly in love with him, or a bit of both. Mahony doesn’t remember them or the town – he was just a baby when he left – but the town remembers him, or at least, they remember his mother who disappeared not long after he was born.
Mahony’s back after twenty-six years because the previous Thursday, sitting in the Bridge Tavern, he was approached by Father Gerard McNamara. Sister Veronica had died, leaving a letter to be passed on to Mahony. A letter left with him on the doorstep of St Martha’s Orphanage. The letter told him his real name, his mother’s name, his place of birth, and contains a photograph of him with his mother and a warning:
For your information she was the curse of the town, so they took her from you. They all lie, so watch yourself, and know that your mammy loved you.
His mammy had loved him. Past tense. Mammy was past tense.
Several things elevate Himself above your average small town murder mystery: Mahony can see the dead; other supernatural elements are also successfully interwoven; the characters of Mrs Cauley and Bridget Doosey are a joy, and Kidd’s use of humour, interweaving of the Irish accent, and her use of narrative voice are all superb. The later of which moves freely from third person subjective between several characters to directly addressing the reader. That it does so without jarring is quite a feat.
Kidd’s narrator tells us:
For the dead are always close by in a life like Mahony’s. The dead are drawn to the confused and the unwritten, the damaged and the fractured, to those big cracks and gaps in their tales, which the dead just yearn to fill. For the dead have second-hand stories to share with you, if you’d only let them get a foot in the door.
Mahony lets a little girl, Ida, into his life and she becomes one of the keys to discovering what happened to his mother.
When we first meet Mrs Cauley, a lodger at Rathmore House, where Mahony also finds himself staying, she appears as a Miss Havisham type of character; the entrance to her room has become a corridor constructed from ‘books, magazines, periodicals and papers’, some of which are ten feet high.
‘This was a beautiful room before she made it her lair.’ Shauna points up at the thick cobwebs that trapeze the spaces between her books. […]
‘She calls it her literary labyrinth,’ says Shauna, kicking an avalanche of play scripts out of the way. ‘I call it a bloody hazard.’
Mrs Cauley lies in bed, very old, bald and tiny. However, it soon becomes clear she’s more – as she describes herself – Miss Marple ‘with balls’. Along with her partner-in-crime, Bridget Doosey, she knows all the goings-on in the village and decides to help Mahony solve his mystery, partly by putting on the village play.
Mrs Cauley grins. ‘Shauna hates having Doosey in the house; she says we’re a bad influence on each other. That girl chews the ears off me with her relentless bloody nagging.’ Mrs Cauley shoots him a mutinous glance. ‘As soon as she patters off down to town I get Doosey in for a bit of hell-raising.’ She leans forward and speaks low. ‘We have a signal. I hoist my harvest festivals out of the window and Doosey stands on the quay with her binoculars.’
Mahony looks confused.
‘I wave me knickers, boy. Harvest Festivals. All is safely gathered in?’
Himself is a gem. It’s difficult to believe a novel that contains such sophisticated narrative techniques and interweaving of the supernatural is a debut. It was a joy to read and I’m very keen that Mrs Cauley and Bridget Doosey make a return in Kidd’s work. The campaign for them to have their own series starts here!
This post is part of a blog tour. If you want to read more about Himself, visit the sites listed below.
Thanks to Canongate for the review copy.