Reviews for Murther and Walking Spirits
Kirkus Reviews 1991 August
A jovial but haltingly uneven tale of how several generational strands came to form one eccentric family. In rural Wales, a devout Methodist family rises slowly from poverty to 19th-century mercantile respectability, only to be spiritually and financially broken through a combination of hubris and bad luck. Davies's depiction of how the descendants of Samuel Gilmartin came to emigrate to British North America convincingly blends gritty humor--including a hilarious Welsh cursing contest- -with sympathetic portrayals of his characters. But operating at several registers below this Welsh plotline is the earlier, and much more thinly drawn, episode of how the Loyalist Gage family emigrated to Upper Canada following the American Revolution. The Gages never fully come to life, and when they paddle a canoe up the Hudson River all the way to Ontario, we've departed from familiar Davies territory and entered the realm of historical romance. Moreover, the two family episodes are organized around the kind of premise that is great fun at first, but that quickly begins to look irrelevant: the spirit of a recently murdered man finds himself attending a film festival alongside his murderer, a persnickety arts-critic nicknamed ``the Sniffer.'' While the Sniffer reviews official festival fare, hismurder victim, Connor Gilmartin, is captivated by documentary footage covering his family history, which he alone can see. Strapped to this structural frame, the two plotlines inevitably begin to wobble. And though the trademark Davies preoccupations are here--skeletons creaking in the familial closets, money, spirituality--they're pitched far below the high- water mark the author achieved with What's Bred in the Bone (1988) and Lyre of Orpheus (1989). Minor work from a major talent--though there are enough flashes of former glory here to make this a must for serious fans. Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews
Library Journal Reviews 1991 October #1
In his latest novel, the elder statesman of Canadian letters continues to explore the themes of sin, guilt, and self-discovery--the twist being that in this case the hero's discovery of self comes only after he is dead. Indeed, Connor Gilmartin (``Gil'') is murdered in the novel's first sentence by a co-worker he discovers in bed with his (Gil's) wife. The indignity of being snuffed by ``the Sniffer,'' a theater-cum-movie critic, is compounded when Gil is seemingly condemned to spend his afterlife seated next to his nemesis at a film festival. But what Gil sees--unlike the rest of the audience--is a series of highly personal films starring an assortment of ancestors. As ``his'' festival progresses, he develops a ``sense of life more poignant and more powerful than anything I ever knew when I was a living man.'' While Davies's interest in metaphysics and Jungian psychology is evident, it never overshadows his story or his compassion for his characters. A masterful effort that should appeal to a wide audience; highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/91.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla. Copyright 1991 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 1991 September #1
The unexpected conceit devised by the author of the Deptford trilogy will surprise but likely not disappoint his fans. Shortly into the first chapter, narrator Connor Gilmartin, entertainment editor for a Canadian newspaper, is killed by his wife's lover, the paper's unctuous film critic, after coming upon the pair in his marital bed. Gil is astonished to find himself invisibly present at the scene, observing the craven retreat of the critic and his wife's subsequent tale to the police about her husband's fight with a burglar. Gil's next shock is learning that his fate is now tied to his murderer's and requires his joining the critic at an archival film festival. The films Gil sees, however, depict his personal history, powerfully presenting the lives of many of his ancestors. Notable among them are Anna Gage from 18th-century New York City, who takes her three children up the Hudson River in a canoe to Canada after her husband, an English officer, is killed at Breed's Hill; and a story-telling Methodist preacher in Wales. Gil's growing admiration for these flawed, courageous people reminds him of conversations with a metaphysically inclined friend who once advised him, ``Feel before you think!'' Relating this murder story with his customary wit, Davies resolves it to the reader's satisfaction, but the real treat is in Gil's posthumous growth to compassion and understanding. ``We live and learn, yes,'' he observes. ``But we die and learn, too, it appears.'' 75,000 first printing. (Nov.) Copyright 1991 Cahners Business Information.