Mahoney is a 26-year-old Dubliner in 1976, searching for how he ended up in an orphanage and, equally, what happened to his wayward mother. His only clue is a photo of her, a 16-year-old girl holding a baby that must be him, with an inscription that brings him to the town of Mulderrig, on Ireland’s Atlantic coast. There he meets mostly friendly characters who are not forthcoming about his mother or the town’s soiled past. Mahoney does find allies: three women and a dead girl who do their best to help him. Debut novelist Jess Kidd is so sure-handed that this reader didn’t blink an eye about that dead girl, or any of the other dead characters loitering about the town’s streets, homes, and stores. Don’t think that the sight gives Mahoney an edge over those who would thwart him; the dead have their own agendas.
As it dawns on Mahoney that his mother was murdered (a point the reader assumes from the beginning, since the first chapter, set 16 years before most of the book, shows the murder; other scattered chapters, set in 1950, give readers even more clues), the women who have taken Mahoney into their homes and hearts become vital to his quest’s success. Indeed, an ancient, long-retired actress, holed up in the guesthouse where he’s staying, may be the most memorable fictional character I’ve met in years. She’s fully original and fearless, and her machinations with both Mahoney and the local priest are laugh-out-loud funny.
Kidd’s memorable page-turner features a unique voice, a concoction brewed of magical realism and dark humor. The book was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards and is a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Choice. It would be a pity to miss reading this fine, funny and entertaining story.