Book Review by Patrick Stuart, SiCCO President
I was tipped to this debut novel by our very own SICCO member, Connie Berry, because I suspect she knows I like weird storylines and funky plots. And The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley definitely fits that description.
The novel centers on the protagonist Patrick (a.k.a., Paddy) Buckley, a middle-aged funeral director in Dublin, Ireland, who lost his pregnant wife and has since dealt with it via insomnia and work. Despite his professionalism and careful manner, learned from his casket-making father until his death from a car crash, Paddy is quite literally an accident waiting to happen. And true enough, in a blinding rainstorm he runs over a pedestrian crossing the road. The unintended victim is Donal Cullen, younger brother of Vincent Cullen, the most feared mobster in Dublin. And once Paddy recognizes what’s happened he speeds away in his damaged car, but not without one witness getting a partial view of his profile.
You can pretty much figure out what happens next. As a top employee at the most prestigious funeral home in Dublin, Paddy is soon tasked with Donal’s funeral. He has to meet with Vincent Cullen to arrange the details, and his guilt almost gives him away. Vincent is ‘the alpha male of alpha males’ . . . a character both intensely charming and strangely beautiful, but nonetheless brutal and vicious, wearing his barely tamped aggression like a second skin. Much of the allure of the novel is undoubtedly Vincent, who makes an art form of intimidating people. In the hands of a lesser novelist he might have been ham-fisted and stock, but the author paints him like an artist, something between Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt. Eventually Vincent finds the truth of his brother’s death, and the reader finds out the real malevolence of the Irish mob. Mobsters of the United Kingdom are in a different class than our own home-grown variety, and the Cullen crew is a great example. Which makes the story unique, intense and terrifying as the plot progresses.
Lest anyone be turned off by the fact that everything takes place around a funeral home, keep in mind that the Irish grieve like nobody else. These are drawn-out, sonorous, serious affairs, which doesn’t mean that the occasional slapstick mistakes occur. Such as the wrong person being cremated by a London colleague . . . no doubt intended as an Irish tweak at British expense. And author Jeremy Massey, also the son of an Irish funeral director, provides plenty of detail that gives the story additional spice. At times the plot goes off in unnecessary directions with elements of magical realism, hokey love interests, occasional plot holes and a somewhat disappointing ending, but the excellent writing and unique premise carries this novel. Jeremy Massey is a natural storyteller and an author to watch: read this and you’ll never look at a funeral quite the same way again.