Massey has created a clever, unexpected plot with the subtle humor of a man staring at the end of life as he knows it: “The Dublin I knew had teeth and needles and lots of tears.” Still grieving the loss of his wife, Eva, and their unborn child, undertaker Paddy Buckley continues to work for Gallagher’s, a job he’s had for twenty years.
He is surrounded by people who know him well: his mentor, Frank Gallagher; Cristy Boylan, a driver; and Frank’s son, Eamonn. Muddling through the days since he laid Eva to rest, for Paddy it's business as usual when he arrives at the home of Lucy Wright to plan the services for her deceased husband, Michael, who has died of cancer after years of failing health.
Utterly charmed by the widow, Paddy experiences a sense of peace around the beautiful older woman who so gracefully accepts her husband’s loss and is grateful for their years together. Though this first encounter with Lucy Wright ends rather dramatically, Paddy is warmed by his encounter with the widow when fate intervenes, current problems rendered irrelevant as he is cast into spiraling events that turn his everyday world into a twisted maze of complications that can only end in death. The chaos begins quietly enough, with a late-night pickup of a body. Returning on a dark, rain-slashed road, Paddy can’t see a thing, only feels a thump as it slowly registers that he may have hit someone. Indeed, he has. Unfortunately, the victim is the brother of powerful Dublin crime figure Vincent Cullen. Leaving the scene in a state of panic, Paddy has no doubt what his future holds: death at the hands of a vengeful brother. Accident or not, he has killed Donal Cullen, and Vincent will exact retribution.
After fleeing the scene, Paddy’s imagination goes into overdrive, anticipating the worst.
His worst fears are realized the next morning when Frank Gallagher sends him to arrange Donal’s funeral services with Vincent. From the minute the two men meet, Paddy is certain his guilt is etched on his face, Cullen a master at reading others. Attended by a cadre of equally grim-faced men, Cullen’s hired killers stare without expression as Paddy stammers through the options for the funeral, finally escaping the scrutiny of Cullen and his men, certain Vincent will soon know of his guilt in Donal’s death. Although the energy of the novel has already been amped up in the aftermath of Paddy’s experience with the grieving widow, that encounter pales with the threat Paddy faces from Donal’s older brother. Like his antagonist, Vincent Cullen, Massey ratchets up the tension yet another notch in a plot that accelerates by degrees, each new turn of the screw building to an ultimate conflagration that will mean the end of Paddy Buckley.
Massey’s prose adds the color of modern-day Dublin to the bizarre reality of crime and respectability, juxtaposing everyday citizens with the criminals who live in a parallel world, each conscious of the boundaries between them and the need to observe the rituals of propriety. Yet nothing can change the reckoning ahead, Paddy drawing from the wisdom of his father’s words and his own healthy fear of discovery in an emotional balancing act that hovers between utter panic and complete serenity. A wonderfully sympathetic character, Paddy becomes Everyman in the worst possible circumstances, caught in a trap from which there is no escape, his formerly quiet existence catapulted into chaos. Once the cycle begins, the final four days of Paddy’s life fly by at warp speed as he rushes from mortuary to church and back.
In a combination thriller, love story, and black comedy, Massey juggles a plot that veers between extremes without missing a beat. This fascinating, unique novel is impossible to resist, a breathtaking brush with death and violence, Paddy dancing on the head of a pin until it’s time to pay the piper.