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"The Plague of Souls" | Reviewed by Bill Winkler

Irish author and educator Mike McCormack’s novel, “This Plague of Souls,” is a darkly intriguing narrative set in modern-day Ireland.

McCormack’s protagonist, Nealon, enters his home to find it empty but recently lived in. Nealon has been released from prison after acquittal in a trial botched by prosecutorial errors. The nature of Nealon’s alleged crime slowly unfolds in the final third of the book.

            As Nealon crosses the threshold his phone rings, a number he does not recognize. An unfamiliar voice welcomes him home with “You’re back.” The caller invites him to a meeting, the purpose of which is not disclosed.

            Nealon reacclimates himself to life “on the outside” as the reader learns of his past and his life with Olwyn, his wife of three years, and their son Cuan. Olwyn and Cuan have left the house leaving no indication of their whereabouts. We learn that Olwyn is filing for divorce.

            The persistent stranger continues to call Nealon, urging him to meet for a purpose that remains undisclosed. In desperation Nealon finally agrees and drives through the night to a prearranged meeting site in a Dublin hotel.

            As he drives, Nealon learns of a national security alert of the highest level. Details are sparse, but military manned checkpoints along his route indicate its serious nature.

            The unnamed caller is revealed as a corpulent member of law enforcement who is aware of virtually every aspect of Nealon’s life. As their conversation unfolds we learn the details of the crimes of which Nealon was accused. Outside the hotel a heightened military presence underscores the intensity of the nation’s response to the undisclosed threat. A high government official is scheduled to make a television statement to inform the public of the situation.

            McCormack skillfully keeps the narrative moving forward, slowly revealing details about Nealon, his relationship with his late father, his wife, and his son, as well as the crimes for which Nealon was in remand awaiting trial. The novel concludes with a scene reminiscent of the coin flip in the Coen brothers’ film No Country for Old Men with all of its potential for undefined malevolence.

            Buy the Book.



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