Jeremy Massey’s Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley

Jeremy Massey, The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley (Riverhead Books 2015)

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Seven years his junior, Donal had been Vincent’s partner in crime since they were teenagers.

Now someone had plowed Donal in the dead of night and robbed him in the bargain.
—-
… forty girls from as many different countries who were quite literally real-life fantasies for the top-end clientele.

Those are all quotes from page 78 of The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley. If, as E M Forster said, a novel is a prose narrative of some length with something wrong with it, then it’s completely fine that the maths doesn’t work: boys who are seven years apart can’t be teenagers at the same time. It’s fine that literally is quite meaningless in that context. And it would be weirdly churlish to object to US spelling in a novel set in Dublin that is, after all, published in New York. But the fact that I noticed these things is a sign that something wasn’t working.

Sex and death, out of body experiences, an evil crime boss and a sadistic ambitious underling, a scary hybrid canine: plenty of elements that should be interesting and just aren’t. However, I did read on, and and was rewarded 12 pages later by a shockingly objective account of embalming a body, which was enough to propel me through Paddy’s remaining two and a half days.

The back cover of the paperback tells us that Jeremy Massy is ‘a third-generation undertaker who worked with his father for many years at the family firm in Dublin’. He is now, the cover blurb continues, ‘a screenwriter by training’. Paddy Buckley of the book’s title is also a Dublin undertaker, and I’ll happily believe that his professional crises and dilemmas are drawn from Dublin undertaking folklore: a body arriving from another undertaker in a coffin with someone else’s name on it, a scam involving coffins and customs, the tensions of juggling multiple funerals with limited staff and vehicles, the details of what ‘ashes’ actually consist of, the effects of tissue gas setting in, even the professional jargon (I like remains, always singular when it signifies a dead body). These bits of lore are what make the novel live. The rest of it, which fails to amuse or excite on the page, may be a novelisation of a film script, and indeed it might work  well as a black comedy thriller on screen, though I doubt if Paddy’s out of body skills would be any less unconvincing when seen than when read. Maybe a producer with money will take it up.

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