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Masterful Storytelling Saves a Lame Story
on August 24, 2002
I've liked Greeley's work ever since a friend handed me _God Game_ almost two decades ago. Now, however, I'm formally and officially in awe of the man's craftsmanship. I read the book in a headlong, two-days-and-one-night rush, all the while thinking: "This story *shouldn't* be working . . . but it is." It works because Greeley's storytelling abilities salvage a plot that would, in the hands of a lesser writer, have ended in the literary equivalent of a train wreck.
Like the two earlier volumes in the series, _Irish Whiskey_ sets Dermot and Nuala both a historical mystery to unravel. This time, however, the mystery takes more exposition than usual to set up and--once set up--pays off in an unsurprising solution that Dermot and Nuala don't so much reason out as stumble over. Resolution comes in the form of still *more* exposition. Yawn.
Also like the two earlier volumes in the series, _Irish Whiskey_ gives Dermot and Nuala personal obstacles to overcome. Up until now, the problems have been mutual--two lovers working out the tempo and texture of their relationship. This time, however, the problems are separate and external, taking the focus off the Dermot-Nuala relationship at a crucial time in their lives (just prior to their wedding). It doesn't help that the characters responsible for their problems (Nuala's obnoxious brother, Dermot's slimy ex-school-chum, and a politically ambitious prosecutor) are two-dimensional caricatures in a book whose main characters act like living, breathing human beings. Greeley, who can motivate characters with the best of them, barely bothers here. The "bad guys" are rotten to the heroes because . . . well, because *somebody* has to be for the plot to work. The lawyer is particularly ill-served by this. Throughout the last third of the book she repeatedly does boneheaded things for no other reason than to keep the plot moving and set up a big courtroom showdown.
And yet . . . (as herself might put it), doesn't the good Father Greeley make it a fine read altogether? Nuala and Dermot are still two of the *nicest* fictional characters this side of Spider Robinson's "Callahan's Bar" stories, and their dialogue is still delightful for its unfamiliar rhythms (unfamiliar to Yankee ears, anyhow), its humor, and its affectionate verbal jousting. The courtroom scene is riveting, and it's a pleasure to see Dermot's sister (the lawyer in the family) come into her own as a character. I finished the book the way I finished the first two: Smiling broadly, and wishing I could wangle an invitation to dinner with Dermot, Nuala, and their extended families. Ah, now wouldn't that be a time?