Darling Jim
Christian Moerk
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Buy *Darling Jim* by Christian Moerk online

Darling Jim
Christian Moerk
Henry Holt
304 pages
March 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Darling Jim opens with a grisly discovery: the Walsh sisters are found dead in their Aunt Moira’s house in the quaint Irish town of Malahide, reportedly poisoned while the body of Moira lies in the entry way with multiple stab wounds. Found by Desmond, the local postman who heard thumping noises and cries for help mere days before, the diabolical crime scene remains a mystery, the house failing to offer up any clues as to why it had happened or why Fiona and Roisin (Rosie) Walsh were kept prisoner by their murderous aunt.

While the kooky Aunt Moira had a reputation for being irascible and unbalanced, no one could foresee that she would become the girls’ jailer and killer. The discovery of Fiona’s coarse black cotton diary, posted to the dead-letter bin of Niall, an impoverished postal clerk, artfully imbues the case with the signs of a great tragedy. The diary, imparting more questions than answers, fascinates Niall, especially Fiona’s account of the time leading up to her imprisonment in Aunt Moira’s death house and of her last words: “We are already gone. Read this tale only to remember us.”

With comic book thrill, Niall embarks on an ill-conceived quest to discover the truth behind the Walsh sisters’ deaths. At this point, the story turns into a kind of twisted carnival freak show as Christian Moerk’s truly bizarre tale comes alive with the gothic stuff of nightmares. Fiona tells of her seduction by a man called Jim, a handsome traveling lothario who smelled of pure sex and arrived into town on his dream machine, a 1950’s Vincent Comet motorcycle.

Proving to be a force of nature, ruin, fury, and a whirlwind of seduction all rolled into one, Jim sets his sites on all three sisters while rumors abound that he is in fact a serial murder, a strange wolf-man who hunts down his prey. As he spins his exotic tale of two medieval princes, the timid Euan and his brother, the headstrong Ned, during the time of the Norman invasion, the twisted parallels of the brothers are paradoxically like the twisted paths of Jim’s own life.

These tales of twin brotherhood - Euan, with his good fortune and ferocious human appetites, and the crippled and vulnerable Ned - bring Fiona and Rosie to the shocking realization that a murder-spree theory can probably be traced back to Jim. Fiona still falls for him, readily sinking into his world, “swimming on the black pools of his eyes.” Betrayal and desperation, however, come in many shapes as Jim sets about seducing the vulnerable Aunt Moira with delectable promises of marriage, even moving onto Rose and her delicate twin sister, Aoife.

Amidst desolate Irish country landscapes, the fog, the darkness, rain and howling wind, Niall draws ever closer to the mystery of Roisin and Fiona’s last living moments. Not a novel for the demure or sedate, Moerk’s characters are gutsy and irreverent, often desperate in their longings and insecurities. I can’t say I particularly liked this tale, even though the novel is wholly original with its wild over-the-top plot and Irish irreverence, along with its colorful description and idiomatic dialogue.

Eventually the legend of those "demon sisters who constantly cry wolf" comes full circle, and a word of warning appears to Niall from somewhere behind in the forest. All the while, Jim fashions his noose from equal parts charm, jealousy and pure calculation. After a terrible incident, all three sisters are set on a course of revenge, well aware that Jim has been strangling everyone in their own carnal desires. Although retribution comes at a terrible price with Jim, the amoral villain run amok, the true desperado is Aunt Moira, the distorted and angry pictures both real and imagined fracturing her mind, her own desire for revenge made all too real.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2009

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