Book review: His Father’s Son by Tony Black

Father and son relationships have become a recurring theme in the hard-hitting Scottish crime novels of Tony Black.

Friday, 27th September 2013, 10:00 am
His father's son
His father's son

Best known for a series of gritty, gutsy thrillers featuring world-weary, cynical detectives, Black has put ‘tartan noir’ firmly on the crime fiction map.

What we didn’t expect was that his familiar familial dynamic – one deep in the core of the author’s own psyche – would resurface on a new and strikingly different literary backdrop.

Inspired by the birth of his own son, Black has turned to his Irish/Australian roots in this emotionally powerful, gently humorous and bittersweet domestic story of a family torn apart by events in the past.

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In a departure from hunting down killers, Black explores the bond between fathers and sons, the clash between old values and new horizons, the destructiveness of denial and the redemptive rewards of acceptance.

Australia in 1979 is the ‘Lucky Country’ and 34-year-old Joey Driscol, who has lived there for ten years, knows it. It’s a far cry from his native Ireland but he believes this is the place he and his wife Shauna can make a new life and forget the troubles of the past and his bullying father Emmet who was ‘always close to rage, and closer yet to whiskey.’

Their eight-year-old son Marti knows nothing of Ireland except that it’s on the other side of the world to Australia and sees nothing but ‘rain, rain and more rain.’ His dad says you can’t grow oranges in your yard in Ireland and swears they will never go back.

Joey has a steady job, a new house and a son he adores but the ‘old troubles’ are brewing again and knocking the ‘b’Jaysus’ out of him. Shauna’s depression has returned, the ghosts of the past are taking hold and he is drifting back to ‘the grog.’

Despite her wild ways back in Ireland, Shauna, with her face in a million and shining black hair, had been ‘a grand catch’ but now their marriage is floundering.

Meanwhile, Marti watches as his Mam and Dad fight but he always seems to miss what the fight is about. His Mam, who lies around in her pyjamas all day, has the sadness that Dad calls the ‘Black Dog’ and nothing – doctors, medicines, therapists – seems to help.

When Shauna disappears one day, taking Marti with her, a distraught Joey finally gets word that they have returned to Ireland. Forced to follow if he wants to see his beloved son again, he must confront a past he’d rather forget and the father he never wanted to see again.

Beautifully written, threaded through with poignant humour and cross-generational angst, Black gets to the beating heart of what makes families tick and the burdens and baggage they inherit.

His Father’s Son plays on the emotions like the notes of a favourite Irish ballad, soaring from low to high at the turn of a sentence. These acute changes of mood and tempo are facilitated by the dual perspectives of Joey’s dulled optimism and Mart’s childish innocence.

Tenderly crafted and subtly portrayed, His Father’ Son is a rollercoaster ride through the landscapes of two very different countries and two very different minds… a journey you wouldn’t want to miss.

(Black & White Publishing, paperback, £11.99)