In the opening pages of Darling Jim, the American debut from Danish writer Christian Moerk, three women are found horribly murdered in a house in Dublin, Ireland, and local police are left with more questions than answers. It appears that Moira Hegarty had imprisoned her nieces, Fiona and Roisin Walsh, and was slowly poisoning them to death. But from the shovel marks on Moira’s forehead, at least one of them fought back. Even more intriguing, it looks as though a third prisoner might have escaped.

This gothic story-within-a-story is told through the diaries of the two dead girls and a third-person narrative following Niall, a young postman who’d prefer to be a comic book artist. After he discovers Fiona’s diary in the dead-letter bin, Niall feels compelled to find out what happened in that house.

Fiona’s diary introduces us to Jim Quick, a traditional Irish storyteller or seanchaí, who roars into Fiona’s town on a vintage red motorcycle and proceeds to seduce half the inhabitants with his stories, and the other half with his good looks and slick moves. Unfortunately, some of the latter group have turned up dead, and the seduced and discarded Fiona is determined to figure out if Jim and his mysterious cohort, Tomo, are involved. When Jim sets his sights on Moira, a fragile and desperate woman, Fiona and her sisters, Roisin and Aiofe, are destined to become too involved to turn back. Once the sisters get too close to the truth, Jim turns his violent nature on Aiofe.

When Niall’s obsession threatens his job, he decides to uncover the rest of the story in another diary, this one written by Roisin. Foiled in turn by a precocious student and her father bent on justice, and a cop eaten up with guilt, Niall finally gets his hands on the prize and the story continues as told by the second troubled Walsh sister. But what has become of the third?

Thick with Irish atmosphere and colloquialisms and peopled with characters right out of the darkest of fables, Darling Jim is a page-turning tribute to the art, history and power of classic storytelling.

Kristy Kiernan is the author of Matters of Faith.

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