BOOK: Darling Jim by Christian Moerk (2009)

I picked this novel up the other day because of the title, for reasons obvious to anyone who knows the name of my husband (hint: JIM).  And though the description on the back didn’t make a whole lot of sense and most of the quotes from reviewers were suspiciously vague, I took a chance on it.  Hey, sometimes doing that works out, right?

Alas, other times, it does not.

The book starts off with a pretty intriguing tale and one that so gripped me in the first fifty pages I couldn’t bring myself to give up on it when the author’s myriad weaknesses began to reveal themselves.  I suppose that says something, something sort of good.  I read the whole damn thing, after all.  So, props for that, sir, whatever it was.  Your premise pulled me in; if only your execution had kept me as engaged, this could’ve been a really good book.

What happens in the beginning is this:  a mailman in a small Irish town, a lonely fellow named Desmond, is surprised when all of a sudden one of the older ladies on his route, a lady who used to invite him in for tea regularly, begins to snub him.  Her name is Moira Walsh, and though she’s always been a bit of a recluse, she was usually quite kind to Desmond.  After the snubbing began, Desmond would walk by her house delivering the mail and often hear strange sounds coming from inside — thumps and moans — and once even saw a fluttering at an upstairs window that looked maybe, sort of, possibly? like a young girl?  But he never bothered to knock, or to listen harder, or to ask questions.

And so, of course, he is devastated by the guilt that hits when the brutally slain body of Mrs. Walsh is found inside one morning a few weeks later.  But it gets worse — upstairs, the coppers find the starved and broken bodies of her two 20-something nieces, Fiona and Róisín, both clearly tortured, held hostage, and steadily poisoned with rat bait over the span of several months.  When Fiona finally tried to make a break for it, stabbing her aunt in the chest with a sharpened screwdriver, Moira still managed to take her own before gasping her last breath herself.  And Róisín’s organs failed, either shortly before or shortly after Fiona’s escape attempt, eaten away by the systematic poisoning.  Three women dead — and one other sister still missing — BUT WHY?

You can see how I got sucked in, right?

Desmond quits his job, traumatized, and we never hear from him again.  He’s replaced by a younger man, Niall, who spends most of his time both on and off the job sketching wolves and drawing comics.  One day, purely by chance (chance being the primary plot device in this novel, I’m sorry to report), he discovers in the dead letter bin a journal that Fiona had written while a captive.  Having heard the stories of the Walsh house, he immediately begins to read it.  And when he later comes upon a similar journal written by Róisín, jackpot!, we finally get the complete story of what led to the girls’ capture and torment by their aunt.

And what a laaaaaame, unbelievable story it was.  It has to do with a “handsome stranger” (yawn) who rides into town one afternoon on a noisy motorcycle and proceeds to charm the sense right out of every women in town, including Aunt Moira and Fiona.  By the time it becomes clear to the Walsh sisters that he’s the kind of bastard the world would be better off without, it’s too late for Aunt Moira, who’s been completely duped by his attention and cons.

Part of Jim’s initial charm is that he’s a seanchaí — an Irish storyteller — and he travels around from pub to pub in the area telling a cliffhangery tale of twin princes, one of whom gets turned into a wolf by a curse when he kills his crippled brother (golly gee, what a coincidence that Niall is also obsessed with wolves!).  This tale sort of ends up making sense when you get to the end of the book and discover it was somewhat of an allegory for Jim’s life with his own twin.  But the problem is, every plot point carrying us to that finale is based on an unbelievable series of lucky stumbles.  Characters do a ridiculous number of things that make no sense (really?  You’re going BACK to the scene of the crime to bury the murder weapon?  Why is that, exactly?), and Niall somehow manages to blunder his way all the way to the root of it all, primarily because the author shoves every clue right into his face.  And into ours.  Borrrrring.

There’s no suspense to this story whatsoever.  You know it’ll all be resolved — in fact, you can tell the author can’t wait to resolve it for you, he’s so pleased with his own cleverness.  But while the actual story wasn’t too bad, the writing was flat and dull and the characters don’t stand out in any way.  The sisters were all a blur, even though the author tried to describe their personalities to us more than once — he told us, he didn’t show us, and that’s Creative Writing 101, brother.

What’s more, I found I just didn’t care about any of them; they had no emotional depth whatsoever (one exception was the girls’ cop friend, who deserved more of a role than she got).  Even worse was that one of the story’s final “twists” was so painfully predictable — and I would guess it would be to any woman reading this story — it actually made me cringe.  After reading a book as creative and well-written as Amy Bloom’s Away, this novel just frustrated the hell out of me.  Such an intriguing idea for a story, and so blown to bits by such lackluster storytelling.  Argh!

And yes, yes, I could’ve put it down at any point and moved on.  Of course I could have.  But I was a fool.  What can I say?  Don’t be like me.


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One Response to “BOOK: Darling Jim by Christian Moerk (2009)”

  1. alisa Says:

    I was thinking about adding this book to my library que, but now I won’t have to. Thanks Meg. 🙂

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