cover image Wild Houses

Wild Houses

Colin Barrett. Grove, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6094-2

Barrett’s splendid debut novel (after the collection Homesickness) wraps a taut crime story around a fascinating set of character studies. In County Mayo, Ireland, 20-something Dev Hendrick has an agreement with Gabe and Sketch Ferdia, weed-dealing brothers who stash their product at his late mother’s house. His loyalty is tested after the Ferdias show up with a teen named Donal “Doll” English, whom they’ve kidnapped and expect Dev to shelter until they receive an overdue payment from Doll’s older brother. Barrett replays the night of Doll’s capture and following three days of captivity in alternating perspectives, primarily Dev’s and that of Nicky Hennigan, Doll’s girlfriend who was with him at the party from which he disappeared after they had a drunken fight. Nicky, a 17-year-old bartender with plans to go to college, assumes Doll abandoned her, and vacillates from concern to anger as she wonders if there’s room in her future for him. As Doll pleads with Dev to let him go, and after Nicky learns of Doll’s predicament, Barrett maps the contours of their inner worlds in dizzying and richly textured detail. Even as Barrett ramps up the suspense, the reader has little doubt as to who these characters really are. This is a knockout. (Mar.)