cover image The Maker of Swans

The Maker of Swans

Paraic O’Donnell. Tin House, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-953534-20-0

O’Donnell (The House on Vesper Sands) delivers an ornate if uneven post-WWII gothic story. Eustace, longtime butler at Mr. Crowe’s large country estate, is awakened one night by gunshots. From his window, he sees Crowe with two pistols, as well as a strange woman and an unfamiliar bearded man, who slaps the woman before Crowe leaps on him. By the time Eustace arrives on the scene, the man, later identified as poet David Landor, is dead, and the imperturbable servant immediately takes steps to cover up the apparent murder, calmly concealing the corpse in Landor’s own car trunk before calling in a favor. O’Donnell gradually ladles out a series of revelations, for example that Crowe belongs to an ancient secret order of artists. Landor was also a member, and Eustace fears his demise will bring the wrath of the order’s mysterious leader onto Crowe. Eustace’s efforts to intervene in Crowe’s fate alternate with sections featuring Crowe’s unusual mute ward, Clara, who is placed in jeopardy by her guardian’s actions. While the prose is occasionally memorable (Clara touches a cygnet’s neck, the softness of which is “barely palpable, like the weightless glancing of dandelion seeds”), the plot never coheres. It’s a beautiful jewel box, but what’s inside is a letdown. Agent: Lucy Luck, C&W Agency. (June)