A DEATH AT CHRISTY BURKES’S is the sixth book in a series that features two protagonists. Montague “Monty” Collins is a successful, if bored, defense attorney in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Monty would like to defend an upstanding person rather than just the lowlife’s who comprise his clients. Father Brennan Burke is the arrogant, hot-tempered, caustic, gifted, brilliant, and tormented priest who becomes Monty’s best friend after Monty defends him when he is accused of two murders. The best place to meet Monty and Brennan is in the pages of the first book in the series, SIGN OF THE CROSS. The reader will enjoy the rest of the series better having some understanding of the characters and personalities of Monty and Brennan.
That being said, DEATH AT CHRISTY BURKE’S touches on Brennan’s family and their ties to Ireland. Brennan, who has two doctorates, is on loan from the diocese of Halifax, Nova Scotia to the archdiocese of Dublin where he is teaching courses on some of his work in Catholic theology. The Burke family is long-established in Dublin and Brennan’s grandfather, the Christy of the title, owns a very successful pub. Recently, the pub has been attacked by a grafffiti artist who spray paints a message on the pub wall telling the world and his wife that there is a killer on the premises of Christy Burke’s pub.
The year is 1992. Brennan and his pastor in Halifax, Monsignor Michael O’Flaherty, are in Dublin for the summer. Michael was born in Ireland and emigrated to Canada as a young priest. For many years, Michael has been bringing tourists to Ireland each summer. This summer, with Brennan and Monty in Dublin, too, Michael is enjoying his first vacation in almost all the years of his priesthood. At nearly seventy, Michael is wondering if maybe he should retire to Ireland. Brennan was also born in Ireland but the Burke clan was forced to emigrate when he was ten. His father, Declan, found himself wanted by the Irish police. The Burkes had ties on both sides of the border and Declan crossed to the North on more than a few occasions to make his opinion of the British army being anywhere in Ireland perfectly clear.
Brennan is working as a bartender because his uncle, Finn, has been arrested by the Garda Siochana, the national police force of the Republic of Ireland. The police have no doubt that Finn is involved in bombings in the north and they would have had proof of their theory if they had arrived at the pub a few minutes earlier than they did. Brennan had just completed the directions from Finn, now sitting in Mountjoy prison, to get rid of a variety of articles that would have kept Finn in jail for the rest of his life.
Ireland in the early 1990’s is not a comfortable place to be in the middle of July. July 12 in Northern Ireland is Orangeman’s Day, commemorating the success of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The Catholics were defeated and the seeds of centuries of hatred were planted. Through the present day, the members of the Orange Order hold their celebratory parade, marching through the densely settled Catholic neighborhoods. Violence is an inevitability. An American television evangelist, the Reverend Merle Odom had been traveling in Ireland with his wife and a group of fellow evangelists when he is kidnapped in Belfast. Michael, unaware of the parties at play here, wants to play a role in freeing the Reverend Odom. Brennan forces Michael to understand he would only make matters worse. Michael is also eager to meet Father Leo Killeen, a friend of Brennan’s father. Leo is an activist who crosses frequently into the north and there are rumors that Leo is not a follower of the “turn the other cheek” teachings of the Master. Michael is Irish born but politically he is a naive Canadian who cannot begin to plumb the depths of the hatred that is the reality of the people of the North.
DEATH AT CHRISTY BURKE’S is beautiful, happy, filled with music and stories, and heart-breaking. It is Ireland throughout its history. The author keeps the story moving while still giving readers unfamiliar with Irish history enough historical details to help understand the connections. The entire series is worth reading.
Bill Clinton is disparaged, even hated, because of his sexual behavior. To the Irish, he is a hero. When Clinton took office, the activities of the provisional IRA (the Irish Republican Army) had put them on the side of the devils. They were responsible for bombings throughout England and Ireland. Gerry Adams was the leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA and he was desperate for recognition. Ted Kennedy approached Clinton, suggesting that he invite Gerry Adams to lunch. Lunch would indicate Adams had standing politically but would not confuse the world by anointing him as a leader of a country. Like Clinton, the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland, Bertie Ahearn, was not an Anglo-phile and he was willing to work with Adams and Clinton to set up what became known as the Good Friday accords, signed in 1998. By acknowledging the provisional IRA, the violence stopped and it is impossible to estimate how many lives were saved when the violence ended.