Author: Paul W. Newman

Publisher: Really Blue Books, 2013


The novel begins with a familiar proposition: a country house crumbling under the weight of disappointments; a family falling afoul of traditions. It seems to be a saga of Masterpiece Theater proportions. But this story takes place in Ireland, not England, and so there is something warm, quirky and hopeful in the unexpected turn of events and fortunes.

In his last days, Lord Henry Thomas Patrick Comerford tries to salvage what he has for his heirs. Perhaps the measures he takes are far too clever, or too risky. His friend and advisor, Ned, worriedly follows his instructions, but even he doesn’t know all that Henry is up to, until it’s too late. Henry dies; his greedy son Roger and wayward daughter Lorelei return to see him buried. His estate manager, Danny McGrath, and his son Fin, who grew up with those privileged children, must support them, in spite of their reservations. “Cookie” and Wallace, the only remaining servants, and Jack, an American who is a frequent house guest, also gather round the grievers, hoping upon hope that their lives in the Irish countryside will continue as always.

Then they are told that the future of Comerford depends on a fishing competition. Roger, who has naturally assumed his right to the property, is pitted against Fin, who is the better fisherman. Like the departed Henry, the men in attendance have lusted after The King, a huge and elusive rainbow trout that possibly lurks in the lake in the woods behind the crenellated pile. True natures emerge. Passions are inflamed. Minds are changed.

This might have been just an entertaining fish story were it not for the sensuous depiction of County Mayo in Ireland by a rather remarkable prose stylist. Paul W. Newman allows us to see into the minds of his characters by telling us what they see in that fragmentary way we are effected by nature and events and memories. I must admit that occasionally I became lost in time, and sometimes did not know who had just spoken; yet I enjoyed the immersion. For example, the atmosphere of a simple pub becomes palpable as, “Lord Henry took the whiskey, left a dull coin on the bar and pocketed the remainder of the change. A small wheeze escaped him as he lowered himself into the bench seat next to the radiator. Steam began to rise from the nearside leg of his cavalry twill pants. He wondered what contortions he would have to perform in order to dry the other leg.”

The rendering of a fisherman’s conscious life also deserves congratulations. Danny steps toward “to feel for smoothness and weight. Cradling them like a baby’s head, leaving no fingerprints on the lovely brass accoutrement that spilled onto the bed from plush burgundy leather wallets with brass buttons that popped. All of it rich and warm in the fireside glow. And brand new.”

You can read this novel as a group portrait of mostly-believable people resolving issues that have simmered for years under the pretense. Or you can think about certain magical parts of it and hope Paul W. Newman returns with more, and gets his earned respect.

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