Bishop’s Move, by Colm Keena
Jaw of the Tiger: Colm Keena. Photograph: Alan Betson
It is often suggested that the legacy of the Celtic Tiger is found in the motorways, or in the rejuvenation of the area surrounding the Samuel Beckett Bridge, in Dublin, or in the glistening infrastructure of Irish people’s teeth. It is too early to assess the literary apparatus thrown up by the boom. We have had Claire Kilroy’s The Devil I Know, for example, and Paul Howard has done several satiric jigs on the corpse of the Tiger. But there is a reticence among novelists to confront the theme head on, although it frequently rumbles in the background. The biggest writerly bounce engendered by the boom and bust has been in nonfiction.
Colm Keena, the Irish Times Public Affairs Correspondent, strides boldly into the jaws of the Tiger with his debut novel. A bishop is forced to resign after a financial scandal. Christopher, an ecclesiastical accountant, is promoted into the slot in haste, a decision his superiors quickly regret.
Bishop Christopher’s new profile exposes him to public questioning on the airwaves, and his compulsive honesty and belief in the power of good lead him to reveal a darker scandal involving tax fraud about his predecessor, which contradicts the sanitised official version.
Christopher uncovers more serious and complex dodgy deals involving the church and property developers. He is faced with the dilemma of exposing these frauds, but to do so he is jeopardising an infrastructural project, which may trigger the collapse of the property boom.
The book examines the moral complexities of power: when your opinions carry no consequences, there is no harm in being good. Alongside these difficulties, Christopher is undergoing a crisis in his own faith and developing an oddball romance with a lawyer involved in the property world.
This is a profoundly moral book. The writer is thoroughly focused on the meaning of good and evil: what was the Tiger and its aftermath if not moral collapse on a national scale? But this moral focus also causes the book’s major flaw. The writer hasn’t trusted the story to speak for itself; he constantly renders the implicit explicit, thus removing the subtlety and mystery that are at the heart of any really good literary experience.
But there is a lot to enjoy in the portrait of the foul-mouthed Taoiseach Brady and the bravado of the developer Buzzie Hogan, characters assembled from the worst bits of high-profile public figures. It is a welcome fictional treatment of Irish public life and the holy trinity of developer, church and state.