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by Michael Collins
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, September 2003
280 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 029764565X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Computer programmer, marathon runner and outstanding author, Irishman Michael Collins has made his talent felt in the world of literature. To mention the awards received by one book alone, The Keepers of Truth is really to impress. This book gained the Irish Kerry Ingredients Book of the Year Award , the International Impact Dublin Literary Award of 2002 and was, most impressively, shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His other works include The Meat Eaters , The Man Who Dreamt of Lobsters ,The Feminists Go Swimming (short story anthologies) and his novels The Life & Times of a Teaboy, Emerald Underground, and The Resurrectionists. Microsoft's loss has been very rewarding for the reading public!

Collins' work, at least that which I have read, has always featured black humour. Dead Souls did not seem to me to contain so much at which one could comfortably laugh as his previous books. Interestingly, this psychological novel had semi-nameless main characters acting out the pessimistic tale.

Law enforcement officer Lawrence is a sad man. He is divorced and unable to see his beloved son Eddy because his child support is well in arrears. He is deep in debt and inclined to drown his sorrows in alcohol. Hallowe'en finds him in a far from celebratory mood as he takes his underprivileged dog, Max, for a walk. To his horror, he discovers the body of a small girl in a pile of leaves, the apparent victim of a hit-run driver. Lawrence reports to his bosses, the chief of police and the mayor - both of whom remain nameless for the duration of the story. The number of a vehicle that has been seen being driven erratically has been called in and these authorities determine it belongs to a high school football star, Kyle. The mayor and police chief decide that it would ruin the future of the small town were Kyle to be charged with the death of the little girl so coerce reluctant Lawrence to participate in a cover-up.

This is a book where the reader must surely be admonishing Lawrence not to do it on just about every page. Lawrence goes along with the cover-up, goes to see Kyle and exhorts him to go ahead and play the 'big game' which is ahead of him. Lawrence speaks to Kyle's failed athlete father, a man who at once resents his son's achievements yet is secretly determined his son should succeed where he himself did not, and Kyle's mother, adherent of a strangely perverse religious sect. The mother has, to a degree, inculcated her beliefs in the young man who seems deeply troubled by what he thinks he has done.

The used car salesman mayor has virtually promised the job of police chief to Lawrence yet somehow, as the book progresses, despite Lawrence's cooperation, the job and its pay rise become more and more remote. Even Lawrence's near death in a fire is somehow turned to his further disadvantage.

There are so many points which I would like to discuss in the novel, yet, for the most part, were I to do so they would spoil surprises for the reader. Suffice it that the entire tale is disturbing, casting, as it does, illumination on possibilities that could face talented athletes, small towns that are so desperate that their entire hope of happiness could lie with one juvenile male as well as the unsavoury characters who can rise to power in such towns. Oh yes - and there is a surprise ending.

Michael Collins has done nothing to dispel a certain reputation for savouring the darker side of life with this book. It is engrossing in its own way yet has the power to make the reader squirm as he follows the tragedies and misadventures of its protagonist.

Reviewed by Denise Wels Pickles, November 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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