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A look at books: from crime and supernatural, to US politics and Irish fiction

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Books by Nethercott, Matthews, Ellis and Maher.
Books by Nethercott, Matthews, Ellis and Maher. 

The Séance Society
By Michael Nethercott

IT’S 1956 in Connecticut, and private investigator Lee Plunkett has enlisted the help of the man known universally as Mr. O’Nelligan to help him with an apparently unsolvable crime with a supernatural element.

Mr. O’Nelligan is old, ancient even, but the scholarly Irishman has maintained his keen eye and his talent for timely aphorisms. Now the unlikely duo is thrown together in an engaging and well-plotted romp filled with eccentric and witty characters that will keep you guessing to the final page.

Author Michael Nethercott’s maternal grandparents hailed from Co. Kerry, as does his Irish immigrant detective Mr. O’Nelligan, who finds echoes of the poetry of W.B. Yeats in even the most depraved criminal circumstances. This is a book for a cold night by a warm fire and a surefire antidote to the winter blahs.

Minotaur, $24.99.

Tip and the Gipper (When Politics Worked)
By Chris Matthews

YOU might not remember, but there once was a time when America’s political opponents worked together for the good of the country. In this era of stalemate and manufactured crisis, MSNBC anchor and author Chris Matthews has found himself reflexively looking back at earlier times when the job of shaping the nation’s future was more important than serving the party’s needs.

Unlike nowadays, when one party seems incapable of conceding to the other even after the people have spoken, when Ronald Reagan arrived with a historic mandate. House Speaker Tip O’Neill realized it spoke for itself.

But O’Neill also knew it was his job to defend government programs, Social Security and welfare, and to prevent unlimited tax giveaways to people who did not need them if the country could not afford them.

Each side, Reagan’s and O’Neill’s, won victories and suffered defeats, but through it all they kept working in an example apparently lost on many of their ideological heirs.

Matthews wants the country to remember the example of leaders who worked to advance the nation’s interests rather than attack their own people to consolidate their political power.

Simon & Schuster, $29.95.

The Boy at the Gate
By Danny Ellis

SHOULD we mourn the passing of Dublin in the rare auld times? It depends on who you ask.
It’s often said you can judge a nation by how it treats its most needy citizens, and by that exacting yardstick 20th century Ireland was often neck in neck with Romania under the USSR.

Ellis grew up in 1950s Dublin, where he was eventually abandoned by his own mother and sent to the already notorious Artane Industrial School for orphaned and abandoned boys. There were hundreds of children in each year -- the school actually looked like a town full of forgotten boys -- but Ireland’s secret shame was hidden far away from sight.

It was run by the order that has become a byword for abuse and psychological terrorism, the often laughably named Christian Brothers. Against this backdrop of dysfunction and bullying, the timid eight-year-old Ellis has to cobble together his own identity, a task made all the more poignant by his innocence, his hope and his fear of the abusive adults all around him.

Music saved him. At Artane Ellis discovered a talent as a trombonist that would lead him away from his wrong beginnings.

But even 50 years later the ghosts of that era still sometimes haunt the adult man. The Boy at the Gate is a testament to the fragile hopes of his boyhood self and the near fatal frontal assault that theocratic Ireland delivered them.

Arcade, $24.95.

The Fields
By Kevin Maher

Some  books are filled with the immanence of an Irish summer morning, and Kevin Maher’s debut novel The Fields is the latest example. In it we meet irrepressible 14-year-old narrator Jim Finnegan coming of age in the 1980s in Dublin.

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