A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
A Mystery Set in a Changing Ireland
Sarah Stewart Taylor, The Mountains Wild
Maggie D'arcy, a Long Island homicide detective, receives a 3:00 AM call from her Uncle Danny: there's a message on the phone in his bar from Roland Byrne of Dublin's police force, the Garda Síochána, asking him to call back immediately. They both know that the message must be about Erin, Maggie's cousin, who disappeared in the Wicklow Mountains in 1993. Back then, 22-year-old Maggie had flown to Dublin, talking to the Garda and interviewing Erin's friends. Her search was fruitless, and while Byrne has occasionally updated Maggie and Uncle Danny since then, there has been no new material that could lead to Erin's discovery. When she telephones Byrne now, however, Maggie finds that the Garda have unearthed Erin's scarf while searching for Niamh Horrigan, a young schoolteacher who has gone missing on the same trail. In the years between Erin's disappearance and Niamh's, three other young women have been murdered in the area, and the Garda are now looking for a serial killer. With little prospect of discovering Erin's fate but hoping she can at least help find Niamh, Maggie goes to Dublin, leaving her 15-year-old daughter Lilly in the care of her ex-husband.
The plot that ensues braids three strands: a present-tense narration of Maggie's 2016 visit and her difficult teamwork with Roland Byrne's Garda; a past-tense narration of Maggie's 1993 search for Erin; and undated, present-tense inserts of Maggie and Erin's childhood closeness and its gradual disintegration as Erin becomes wild and unpredictable. The interweaving, while it slows a plot already encumbered by the necessity of keeping marginal track of five young women who have gone missing over 23 years, adds psychological depth to the story, arouses interest in Erin as somebody other than a "missing person," and sets up a conclusion that surprises even the most careful reader.
The most interesting aspect of the book, especially for readers with a deep interest in Irish history and culture, is the carefully-described difference between Ireland in 1993 and Ireland in 2016. Remembering Dublin as she saw it just after graduating from college, Maggie, now in her mid-forties, sometimes catches familiar glimpses of the city of her youth, but often finds herself lost amidst new buildings, new roads, and a new atmosphere of prosperity. Dublin, of course, is very different from the Wicklow mountains, whose beauty has been a backdrop for Ireland's tragedies since the sixteenth century, and whose present rural population harbors anti-English sentiments and possibly anti-English groups. The possibility that Erin might have disappeared purposely because she participated in "the troubles," is never far from Maggie's mind. Taylor's knowledge of Irish history and her understanding of the country's changes allows her to portray Irish warmth (and Irish pubs) without sentimentality. Those interested in Ireland will be glad to hear that The Mountains Wild is the first of a new mystery series in which Maggie is the lead actor.