Himself was published in Hardback & E-book by Canongate Books on 27th October 2016. I have a copy here and will be reading it very shortly - review to come. I have heard great things about this book!
There’s a light on in the library and Mahony decides not to ignore Mrs Cauley’s summons to join her for a nightcap. He finds her propped up in bed, wearing a poker visor and playing solitaire. She has listened all evening for his footfall in the hall, although she’d never admit to it.
Mahony turfs a pile of papers out of an armchair and pulls off his boots.
‘Here.’ Mrs Cauley fishes a bottle out from under her pillow. ‘Pour us a drop of the hard stuff.’
Mahony pours her a tooth mug and takes a china cup for himself.
There’s a nice silence just while they drink. The reading lamp beside the bed casts a mellow tent of light over the two of them. The dead and the mice draw in to watch, lulled and quiet. The damp settles in the corners of the room and stretches itself out along the wallpaper.
Mrs Cauley peers over at him. ‘So how’s tricks?’ She collects up the cards, as quick as a croupier.
‘Not bad. I had a good time at the pub with the boys.’
‘The boys, is it?’ She shuffles and squares the pack. ‘Watch yourself. There’s not a trustworthy soul in this town. Every one of them has at least two faces.’
Mahony puts his feet up on the bed and looks over at her. The visor shades her eyes but he’s certain she’s taking everything in. ‘They seem sound enough.’
‘Will they still drink with you when they know who you are? Do they know who you are, Mahony?’
Mahony gets up and pours himself another. He ignores the empty mug in her outstretched hand.
Mrs Cauley fixes him with her best poker face. ‘So you didn’t ask your new pals at Kerrigan’s Bar what happened to your mammy?’
Mahony swirls the bad whiskey. It dances up the sides of the cup. ‘I didn’t.’
Mrs Cauley nods. ‘That’s a shame. They’d have spun you a story about Orla leaving town.’
‘It would be no story.’
‘So you believe she left town now?’
‘If she were dead I’d know about it.’
‘You’re right of course. She’d be over there by the fire- place, knitting.’
Mahony knocks back his whiskey in one hit, before it can take the skin off the roof of his mouth. ‘She could still be alive.’
‘Because you can’t see her?’
‘The dead are like cats, Mahony. You of all people should know that. They don’t always come when they’re called.’
Mahony shakes his head. ‘They could be holding her somewhere.’
Mrs Cauley raises herself up on her pillows. ‘For twenty- six years, Mahony?’
‘It happens. I read about some kid found in a woodshed.’
‘You think that’s possible? A live wire like Orla in a woodshed?’ Mrs Cauley speaks evenly. ‘You think your mother was murdered and so do I. Now I thought we’d established that?’
Johnnie strolls through the French doors, throws his faint hat down on the end of the bed and disappears. In a moment Mahony sees a plume of spectral pipe smoke coming from behind a large stack of encyclopaedias in the far corner.
Mahony nods. ‘So what’s next?’
‘We play to our strengths, isn’t that how the best detectives work? With my mind and your unnatural talents we’ll have this case cracked in no time.’
Mahony gets up, takes her cup and his and puts them on the bedside table. He pours another measure into each and wonders if he’ll ever feel his feet again. ‘All right, Miss Marple, but, first of all, how do you know so much about my unnatural talents?’
She grins. ‘Husband number four was an eminent clairvoyant.’
‘Four, is it? Jesus. So that would be the dead fella with the moustache?’
She shakes her head and smiles. ‘No, Johnnie was my fiancé. We never married, although he was the most beloved.’
Mahony puts a drink into her hand. ‘He was the one that got away?’
‘Something like that,’ says Mrs Cauley. She frowns. ‘I want to try something, Mahony.’ She takes off her visor and reaches for a headscarf hung over the bedpost. ‘Is there a breeze tonight?’
Mahony looks at her. ‘God knows. The night is still.’
‘We’ll give it a go anyways, although it’s better with a drop of wind to get it started.’
Mrs Cauley sidles to the edge of the bed. ‘Help me to get standing.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘Did you know, Mahony, that literature can be very illuminating?’
Mrs Cauley reaches for her walking frame and with Mahony’s help moves her legs off the bed and puts on her slippers. With great effort she stands and Mahony sees how small she is, not quite five feet tall and the weight of dry hide and honeycombed bone alone.
She sways, curved and calcified by time, smiling up at him. ‘Open the doors, Mahony.’
The French doors are stuck fast and blossoming with mould but eventually they give and the night air falls in around Mahony as if it’s been waiting with its face pressed against the glass.
‘That’s it. Throw them wide.’
The night air stalks into the room and starts to tease the dust along the skirting boards.
Mrs Cauley takes a step forward, stumbling a little in her carpet slippers. ‘Look around you,’ she whispers. ‘The room is changing. See? The lights are burning brighter? Can’t you feel it? The books want to tell you something. They want to help.’
And then Mahony feels it.
The books, the papers and the magazines: all of them pulsing with a faint heartbeat. They’re watching him, holding their breath. Mahony suddenly wants to shout against the pressure of all of these waiting words.
Mrs Cauley turns to Mahony and lowers her voice. ‘I last did this when Shauna’s mother left for England. I knew exactly what she was up to when Lady Chatterley’s Lover started snapping at my ankles. To say nothing of the fact that Ibsen flew across the room and nearly took the head off me.’ She knots her headscarf grimly. ‘It was A Doll’s House, so I know she won’t be back.’
Johnnie emerges from a dark corner. The ghost of a smile teases the ragged curtains of his dim moustache; with a nod to Mahony he lies down on the floor and glides under the bed.
The breeze whisks a flurry of play scripts up into the air where they drift in graceful arcs. As Mahony watches, their movements begin to change. They start to circle the room, slowly at first, then picking up speed until they whirr past with the dedication of Wall of Death bikers. Soon light pamphlets of philosophical thought start to join them, skidding across the floor and fluttering up into the whirling cloud of paper. Slim volumes of difficult poems come next, scuttling out from dark corners and flapping headlong into the swirling gyre. Even the most aloof classics join in, shedding their covers and flinging themselves, one after the other, into the vortex.
In the middle stands Mrs Cauley, clinging to her walking frame.
Then all at once the cyclone stops and the wind rushes out of the French doors.
And everything falls down to the ground.
Johnnie springs out from under the bed and, with a look of profound effort on his face, blows
a sheet of paper through the air and into the outstretched hands of Mrs Cauley.
‘Close the window, Mahony,’ she says. ‘We’ve got something.’
Johnnie collapses, flickering.
Mrs Cauley studies the sheet of paper. ‘Now that’s some class of a hint.’
Johnnie curls up at her feet like a dying beetle. Sometimes twitching out one long limb, sometimes moaning soundlessly.
‘What is it?’ Mahony wades through drifts of papers.
‘It’s a playbill, Mahony.’
He reads her name on it. ‘You were in this play?’
‘I’m right there.’
Mahony looks at the playbill. In the photograph a dark- haired girl stands smiling with her head tilted and her hands on her hips. Johnnie stops twitching and gets up off the floor. He straightens his waistcoat and tries to put his arm around her.
‘That was me.’ She puts her hand up to her head and touches the few white hairs remaining on her naked little head.
Mahony spots her wig, caught on the leg of an upturned hat stand. He brushes it off and hands it to her.
She takes it and smiles, her eyes bright with checked tears. ‘Pour us a drink, kiddo.’
Back in bed with a whiskey, Mrs Cauley watches the dust settle. She sucks at her teeth. ‘Shauna will be hopping. She’ll have to run the broom around the corners. She won’t like that, the idle mare.’
The room is demolished; many of the larger stacks remain standing but the floor is littered with piles of papers and broken books.
Mahony hands the playbill back to her. ‘The Playboy of the Western World, by John Millington Synge.’
‘A great play by a great man,’ Mrs Cauley says, smoothing the edges of the paper gently.
Johnnie smiles at her from the end of the bed.
‘But you’re wondering,’ she murmurs, ‘what this play has to do with our investigation?’
Mahony looks outside. It’s nearly dawn and he’s buckled on the worst kind of whiskey and in no fit state for guessing games. Somewhere in his flittered mind he marvels at Mrs Cauley’s tolerance of cheap liquor, for, apart from the jaunty slant of her wig, she’s as bright as a blackbird.
‘And here it is.’ She taps the playbill on her lap. ‘The St Patrick’s annual fundraising production presents a premium opportunity for the amateur detective.’
Mahony fights a wave of nausea. ‘I don’t get you.’
‘Every man and his mother rolls into town for it – they all come, it’s an event.’
Johnnie gets up and rambles through a knoll of pamphlets to the French doors to watch the sun rise behind the trees. His face is glowing. Mahony has never seen a dead man appear happier.
Mrs Cauley looks thoughtful. ‘First off, we’ll use the auditions to quiz the hell out of them. They’ll be there in droves, lining up ready for a good interrogation.’
Johnnie nods primly and straightens his tie.
‘Then we use the play to flaunt you, kiddo. To keep you right under their noses, in their line of sight,’ says Mrs Cauley, jubilantly. ‘We put you centre stage.’
Johnnie takes a bow.
Mahony stares at her. ‘Ah now – Jaysus, I can’t act.’
‘Think about it, Mahony.’ She leans forward in the bed. ‘It won’t be long before they work out who you are, if some of them haven’t already. You’re the spit of your mother: the same big wounded eyes and damaged little smile.’
Mahony squints at her; he hasn’t the strength to argue.
‘You can only remind them of Orla and, no offence, Orla is the last person this town wants reminding of.’
Mahony nods. ‘Fair enough.’
‘So you parading about on that stage as large as life will wind the bastards right up.’ She pats her quilt gleefully and chuckles. ‘Then we sit back and let them give themselves away. Get them rattled enough and someone’s bound to point the finger.’
‘So I act in the play?’
‘You do. Have you another plan?’
Johnnie twitches his moustache in Mahony’s direction in an attempt at a sympathetic smile.
Mrs Cauley narrows her eyes at Mahony. ‘Are you the kind of cowboy to run from trouble?’ There’s a bad kind of delight in her voice.
Mahony laughs and shakes his head.
‘So let’s ride headlong into town with our guns blazing.’
Mrs Cauley holds out her mug. ‘Set ’em up.’
Mahony reaches forwards and pours out the last of the whiskey, wondering if the feeling will ever return to his fingers.
‘A toast to you, my leading man. And to our investigation.’ Mrs Cauley downs her drink in one, her eyes hardly watering. She grins, wickedly. ‘And to the straight-up joy of getting Mulderrig’s bollocks in a twist.’
By Jess Kidd
Published by Canongate Books (27th October 2016)
When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland's west coast, he brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the lies of his past.
No one - living or dead - will tell Mahony what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby, despite his certainty that more than one of the villagers knows the sinister truth.
Between Mulderrig's sly priest, its pitiless nurse and the caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and darkly comic debut novel creates an unforgettable world of mystery, bloody violence and buried secrets.
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