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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Clochán by Lawrence P. O’Brien takes us back to the late eighteenth century and the mystical, superstitious Emerald Isle. As a young six-year-old boy, Kevin Neal had watched his entire family butchered by the English soldiers in the rebellion of 1798. He watched his two brothers die in battle and then ran for his life as the soldiers rode out from the village to attack the women and children gathered on a hillock to watch their menfolk fight the English. As he saw his mother and sister mowed down and murdered by the rampant soldiers, he knew his life was changed forever. Finally making it back to the small stone cottage the family called home, Kevin, now alone in the world, was adopted by a local family. When the Walsh family finds themselves evicted from their farm by their harsh landlord, they take a journey to Tintern Abbey, where Mr. Walsh has been promised some work as a stonemason. There, Kevin is reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Anty, who is no longer interested in Kevin, but for Kevin, Anty is still the love of his life. As the boy grows into a man, strange happenings and vicious murderous mutilations dog the small community that lives around the Abbey. The blame for the violence is laid squarely at the feet of the legendary, mystical beast, the Puca. Determined to discover who is behind the murders and deal with them once and for all, Kevin will face the greatest challenge of his life, which will test the young man’s determination, courage, and recuperative abilities.
Clochán is a fascinating insight into life as a tenant farmer in Ireland under English rule. Author Lawrence P. O’Brien has woven a story of mystical creatures and Irish lore around a good old-fashioned murder (most foul) mystery. Most startling for me was the total contrast between those with money (i.e. power) and those without. The lives of the poor tenant farmers were frugal and of subsistence level in comparison to their indolent, frivolous, and arrogant English power-broker neighbors, who clearly ruled Ireland of the time with an iron fist. The narrative also highlighted the great gulf that existed even then among the tenants, between the Papists and the Protestants. The mistrust of the Catholics by the Protestants, despite their equal rank in society, was palpable and made any form of collective action against the evil-doers difficult. The descriptive writing and scene-setting by the author were another plus of this narrative. One could easily feel part of the windswept hills and lush valleys of Ireland as the story unfolded. Special mention should be made of the character development. The descriptive style allowed the reader to literally get inside the head of the characters, especially young Kevin Neal. There is plenty of action, violence, and derring-do for the most ardent adrenaline junkies and yet it is beautifully soothed by the thoughtful and the mystical. This is a good, solid, adventure mystery that ticks all the right boxes in the reader’s head, and I can highly recommend it.