Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Darling Jim"

Born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, Christian Moerk moved to Vermont in his early twenties. After getting his MS in journalism at Columbia University, he was a movie executive for Warner Bros. Pictures, and later wrote about film for the New York Times.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his American debut novel, the gothic Irish thriller Darling Jim, and reported the following:
Sometimes, serendipity is precise.

On page 69 of Darling Jim, the reader is put slap bang into the middle of what I’ve attempted with this book: tell a story that’s a modern folk tale, a love story, and a thriller.

The audience’s representative is Niall, a young mail carrier with artistic aspirations, who leads us through the story in the present day. He uncovers two diaries written by young women who were murdered and succeeded in mailing out their last thoughts before the end, hoping a kind soul would solve the mystery of their death; these women’s past unfolds in the near-present. But the “Darling Jim” of the title is a seanchaí – a charming bard who tells stories up and down the Irish coast – around whom the entire secret revolves.

And on my page 69, he has reached the point where his mythical tale in Ireland’s distant past begins to reveal parallels to his own present-day life. His unfolding story, you see, has to do with the nature of love and death. Will a man condemned to spend eternity as a wolf unless he finds love continue to murder regardless? And will the mostly female audience to Jim’s tale ignore the obvious warning signs and continue to let themselves be charmed by someone so obviously manipulative? Should one pay heed to moral fables?

On page 69, the mythical ascendant king Euan’s taste for preying on women is overcome by his need to hunt wolves – an appetite that will cost him dearly:

Henceforth, the castle with the black gate would forever come to be known as
Dún an Fhaoil. For what had a better ring to it than the Fort of the Wolf? He struck his family’s age-old nautical crest from the castle’s banners and shields and replaced it with a fearsome wolf leaping through a forest clearing, a sign of his own good fortune and ferocious human appetites.

King Euan lived almost three more years this way.

Until God finally decided to frown on cowardice and treachery.

So, thematically, this page represent the theme of sexual and predatory rapaciousness. But the folk tale is only one leg in the tripod the makes up the entire story. Niall’s search for clues in the wilds of West Cork and the dead women acting as his guide from beyond the grave are the two parts that showcase an unusual part of modern Ireland few people get to see. The language here is completely different and bears no resemblance to the high-toned nature of Jim’s macabre tale. But taken together, the story asks one question:

Will love or death triumph?

I hope you’ll enjoy this triptych.
Read an excerpt from Darling Jim, and visit Christian Moerk's website and the Darling Jim Facebook group.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue