Book Review–Black Irish by Stephan Talty

Title: Black Irish
Author: Stephan Talty
Format: Electronic
Written: 2012
Published: 2013


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

When I saw that Stephan Talty had a fiction release, I was really excited.  He’s written several terrific non-fiction books, including one of my favourite Pirate books, Empire Of Blue Water.  So of course I figured anything he writes for fiction will be just as enthralling and captivating as the real tales he’s teased out of the past.

Black Irish is the perfect book for St. Patrick’s Day, because it focuses not on the Irish of Ireland but on the Irish who emigrated and the home they’ve made here in the U.S.   St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated as a national holiday in Ireland only since 1996.  Prior to that it was about as big over there as Arbor Day is here in the States.   As the Celtic Tiger took hold in Ireland, they decided to use 17 March as a day of national pride and celebration, focusing on the proud history of the Emerald Isle.

It was here in  the States that the St. Patrick’s Day we all know and most of us love was born.  The green beer and Erin Go Bragh was actually a late-18th Century invention, a sort of public-relations campaign started by those who’d left  Ireland and wanted to fondly remember their homeland.   For decades the holiday was also used as a way to cement the bonds of the Irish American communities here so that funds could be raised to bring family members over, support family members who stayed in Ireland and–most importantly–to support the Irish Cause For Independence.

In other words, St. Patrick’s Day as it is now celebrated essentially began as a sort of equivalent to Breast Cancer Awareness month.

So what does all this have to do with the Stephan Talty book?   Everything.  Because the Talty book is set in South Buffalo, a neighbourhood known also as The 27th County* or simply “The County” for short.  The two-thirds of the book that focus on the history and culture of this uniquely Irish area is captivating, fascinating and wonderful.    If I’d talked to you about that book, I’d be telling you that it’s a five-worm read.

The problems kick in when Talty moves away from what he knows–history–and begins to take his story into Crime Thriller territory.  The conclusion of the book is pretty much every Serial Killer Thriller Cliché you can imagine and reads like something from someone’s notebook of story ideas.    That book is about a half-star read.   Especially the last two or three chapters, both of which were so ridiculously out of the blue that I kept saying “you’ve got to be KIDDING ME!?!?”    When the big denouement is stolen from a popular horror film that almost everyone in the world has seen, you know that Talty doesn’t have a lot of practice writing fiction.

What I think happened was this–Talty had a great idea for a story that focused on the Irish neighbourhood on the Canadian Border.   The history was there, the culture was there.  It’s just that there’s not a TRUE story there.   Or at least one that can be safely told–The Troubles are not that far off in the past.   So he decided to make a fiction tale out of it, but his heart just wasn’t in the fiction part.

So what would I rate this?   I’m going to give it 3 worms, because I think it’s interesting enough that I’d recommend people check it out, but  it’s so preposterous that I can’t love it.   I do like it–and Talty–enough to not give it that one-worm rating that the ending deserves.







*There are 26 Counties in the Republic of Ireland

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