- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2010

By Joseph Caldwell
Delphinium Books, $13.99 246 pages

This is the third pig epic that Joseph Caldwell has written and it suffers from too many haunted humans and too little about a porcine ghost. The original pig snorted its way to stardom in the first volume, demonstrating its influence on the world around it, and then was inexplicably killed off in the second chronicle of pigdom. As might be expected with this extraordinary animal, however, death didn’t slow it down.

There is a cross-eyed pig squealing through the current book, but it is just an animal. It lacks the character of the indomitable original, which has returned as a ghost with a mission.

Mr. Caldwell can write like silk, and he conjures up a lyrical Irish panorama complete with a fey little boy who murmurs of his visions of the past and the future. Around him, there is a group of colorful people who never stop talking about what to do with the castle and the ghosts.

The previous pig books went into detail about the wicked behavior of the English aristocracy in Ireland, the sufferings of the Irish and a lingering need to avenge an ancient lynching. If you haven’t read the predecessors, the third of the pig trilogy will be much more fascinating. Otherwise, you may find yourself wondering why it all sounds so familiar. Not even the addition to the cast of Declan Tovey, the darkly handsome thatcher who found his way into the bed of most of the women who set eyes on him, can revive interest, because he is not only depressed but uninterested. A decadent Declan as of old romping through the village would have saved the day.

The cast of characters is still memorable, from Lolly and Aaron to Kieran and Kitty and the wicked Lord Shaftoe to Brid and Taddy, the tragic young ghosts who have been dangling from the rafters in Castle Kissane since they were hanged there 200 years ago.

The gregarious group is devoted to the question of whether or not to blow up the castle and let Brid and Taddy proceed into paradise, or let them dangle there for eternity to punish Lord Shaftoe. Kieran takes the position that the sad young couple who plod about the fields herding cows when they aren’t dangling in the castle, should be left where they are as a reminder of Irish pain. He doesn’t take into account how dismal it must be for them.

“They have a story to tell and it must be told,” declares Kieran. “We can’t send them away.”

The already complicated situation is challenged by the appearance of the current Lord Shaftoe, who wants to dress up in 19th-century costume, lace jabot and all, to scare away Kieran and Kitty who are the current occupants of Castle Kissane. Given that the courtyard is used as a barn with malodorous results, it’s surprising they stay. But what nobody knows except Peter the fey child, and the immortal pig, is that there is still gunpowder beneath the flagstones of the courtyard. That was intended to blow up the castle and his predecessor two centuries earlier.

Failure to discover the plotters was what led to the hanging of the innocent young couple as punishment to the village. The dilemma of the what to do with the castle and its resident specters even interrupts the literary works of Kitty McCloud who has made a fortune from writing “improved” versions of the classics, and having disposed of “Pride and Prejudice,” is currently demolishing George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss.”

And everyone is stunned by the reappearance of Declan Tovey who they thought they had buried and mourned a year earlier, and whose presence arouses a tidal wave of feminine guilt. This was a man whose charm demolished the resistance of every woman he encountered. Unsettling memories of Declan are shared by the women who knew him more than well. “The unsettling stares that promised the presence of mysteries in the depths of his dark, dark eyes … the arched brows, full and black that unfailingly suggested the object of his gaze possessed enticements that he could not be expected to resist.” Unfortunately, these remain only memories because although Declan is indeed alive, he remains obsessive about the accidental death of a young man who died in a thatching accident.

Declan is an expert in thatching, the roofing method used in medieval days now to be seen in a reinforced form on houses where owners think it is fashionable to look ancient. So Declan is still thatching and mourning while the demented debate goes on about the castle, the couple and the lord. And it is of course the pig that goes quietly about solving the remaining mystery. Frankly, it comes as a relief when the fate of the castle is sealed and Taddy and Brid, who must be two very bored ghosts, head for what we hope is a more interesting existence in heaven. The pig also goes to its well-earned rest, having said less and accomplished more than anyone else in the book. The pig should now rest in peace.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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