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Celtic Tiger tale

09 May 2014

This is a pacey novel about corruption, says Caroline Bowder

Bishop's Move
Colm Keena
Somerville Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT654 )

BISHOP'S MOVE  is a first novel by The Irish Times's public-affairs correspondent, Colm Keena, whose revelations of Taioseach Bertie Ahern's financial affairs created an Irish political crisis in 2006. He faced prison for not revealing his sources, but was exonerated.

The hero of Keena's book, a newly appointed bishop, Christopher, also uncovers corruption in high places, and nearly pays for his honesty with his life. This is a page-turner, and has all the ingredients of a good thriller - power, politics, religion, money, sex and violence. Its protagonist, bishop-despite-himself, is a dogged but ingenuous character, sympathetically portrayed.

His priestly afflictions include the tendency to drink too much, loneliness, naïvety, and poverty. But, as a bishop, he now mingles with the ruling political and business people of the Celtic Tiger, while having to remain uncorrupted himself. "Women find power attractive," one siren tells him. Keena moved in these circles; so he knows what he's talking about.

The writing is vivid, if sometimes one-dimensional. Christopher's friend (also a bishop) John is lightly sketched, and the politicians and businessmen are stereotypically ruthless; but the women are more real characters: Keena catches nicely the dilemma of Simone, the ambitious woman in a ruthless greedy world, who challenges and enchants Christopher. His mother and next-door neighbour are also both feisty individuals, their voices authentic.

Dublin is quite a character, too: but now it's in the last throes of the good times, and desperate deals are being done: Dubliners are spoiled and rich, with grandiose houses and offshore bank accounts. And yet it is a small society, in which the top people are as thick as thieves.

The narrative moves at a cracking pace. The violence is painful, the love interest unsalacious. It is worth reading just for the snapshot that it takes of Ireland, with its plutocrats, tycoons, and the Roman Catholic Church all on the cusp of change. Our hero just manages to make it to pastures new, and this reader was satisfied.

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