A look at books: Ireland’s recession, sci-fi adventure and Copenhagen

Fingers: The Man Who Brought Down Irish Nationwide and Cost Us €5.4 Billion
By Tom Lyons and Richard Curran

When you allow your banks to become multi-billion euro property lending casinos, you should probably anticipate that the good times will inevitably come to an end.

But poor Ireland, used to a generational diet of recession, didn’t want to receive that memo. Prosperity, even illusory prosperity, was better than privation.

The Celtic Tiger era saw the rise of many homegrown masters of the financial universe, but Michael Fingleton of the Irish Nationwide Building Society was one of the most celebrated. Fingleton shepherded Nationwide from its days a sleepy mortgage provider to a major national player, earning over €2 million a year for his efforts and reportedly building a pension fund worth €27 million.

But with great power comes great opportunities for impropriety. In 'Fingers: The Man Who Brought Down Irish Nationwide and Cost Us €5.4 Billion,' Tom Lyons and Richard Curran point the finger at the failure of the society’s internal systems and controls, and the overweening dominance of one man.

Fingleton lent out money to a small golden circle of property developers, with the society taking stakes and shares in the profits of the ventures it bankrolled.

The outcome is as ghastly as it was predictable. No one was held to account, then or ever. No banking enquiry was ever held to explain to the Irish people what went wrong.

Ordinary borrowers were treated ruthlessly while the golden circle of the mega rich stuck the nation with a bill in the billions and walked away. No politician, regulator or civil servant wants to acknowledge that they let the society run riot. Since we all let this happen, it’s everyone’s fault, apparently.

Lyons and Curran hold the mirror up to the Irish establishment, and the image thrown back is hard to look at.

Dufour, $29.95.

On the Razor’s Edge
By Michael Flynn

It's a startling thing to hear someone say aye in a big sci-fi adventure tale. Just think of Scotty from 'Star Trek.' He brought a bit of welcome earthiness and Celtic charm to the vastness of space and became one of the show’s most impersonated characters into the bargain.

Fans of Michael Flynn’s successful space opera know that they can expect a similar blend of high tech and old school Irish myth in the unlikely but strangely compelling saga that has now reached its fourth and final book.

In 'On The Razor’s Edge' Flynn’s gnarled hero Donovan buigh is back and about to begin the most dangerous quest of his life. Well-drawn characters and a mordant wit define this epic series, and names and conventions of the Irish source myths lend themselves fluidly to this tale of good versus evil.

The plot is so thick a spoon could stand in it, but Flynn weaves his tale with the skill of a Donegal tweed maker. It’s the grand finale so true allegiances are reveled and the stakes are at their highest.

The hopes and fears of the distant past and the far future are also woven into this galactic battle, which increasingly becomes a prose poem as it reaches its finale.

Tor, $25.99.

Kerrigan in Copenhagen
By Thomas E. Kennedy

Like Dublin, Copenhagen has been a city for a millennium, and like Dublin it has just been immortalized by a polyglot Irish writer.

In 'Kerrigan in Copenhagen' Irish American author Thomas Kennedy fashions an enduring love note to that most insular and unfathomable of European capitals.

Along the way he tells a poignant story of budding love to match the descriptions of the city as it begins to blossom in spring.  Alongside the romantic intrigue Kennedy creates a working guidebook to the 1,500 public houses in his adopted city (don’t be surprised by the number, it gets cold and dark in the winter there too after all).

This is the third and most distinctive book to date in his planned Copenhagen quartet, and it’s a stand alone entry for anyone approaching this remarkable author, whose Joycean celebration of the city takes in its cobblestoned streets, its distinctive art and architecture, and the “treacherous blue eyed people, those blond liars,” who inhabit the place.

For Kerrigan, an American ex-pat fleeing a disastrous relationship, the fabled home of Hamlet is a provocative place to fetch up and soon enough the city and its inhabits are restoring his shattered faith in a tale that’s as quietly rapturous as a glass of the Akvavit they serve in the local pubs.

Bloomsbury, $26.95.

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