|"The Pig Did It" by Joseph Caldwell (Harrison, N.Y.: Delphinium Books, 2008)|
At a time of year filled with far too many things to do, a lighter novel offers a quick respite. "The Pig Did It" by Joseph Caldwell fills the bill.
This short novel is at once a fascinating glimpse into country Ireland, a baffling murder mystery, and two unlikely romances that may or may not work out.
A heartbroken American, Aaron McCloud, travels to County Kerry to visit his eccentric Aunt Kitty and wallow in grief over a "lost" love that he never really had. An accidental encounter with a wayward pig sets in motion a series of incidents that keep him so occupied he has little time to mourn.
Just getting to Kitty's house from the bus he took to her village is eventful. He loses his way and the title pig insists on following him to Kitty's house. Aaron finds his aunt wallpapering a room, explaining that he won't have to see the same roses he saw when he visited as a child.
Right off he apologizes for arriving late: " I was delayed." "Delayed? I thought you were coming tomorrow," Kitty replies, resuming her wallpapering after dinner. In the morning Aaron comes downstairs and sees the fruits of her labor - a room wallpapered with small roses "looking somewhat like diseased bees."
Then a body, the skeletal remains of one Declan Tovey, is unearthed (by the pig) in Kitty's garden. Tovey once figured in the lives of all three main local characters, who become logical suspects in his murder.
Caldwell takes us on a merry romp through Irish customs such as a prolonged dart game in the local pub and a full-blown wake. Figuring out who did the victim in mystifies until the end. Caldwell writes a measured prose that is a delight to read. Long passages abound with little dialogue; then all the characters seem to be talking at once.
The most hilarious part deals with Aunt Kitty's work as a novelist. Her bizarre but highly successful formula (known only to Aaron) has her reworking an acclaimed novel with what she calls "corrections." Endings are changed, heroes disposed of, "the proud debased," the humble coming out on top. To forestall charges of plagiarism, she shuffles new settings, furnishings, costumes and hairstyles into the mix. In her version of "Jane Eyre," it is Rochester, not the madwoman, who will throw himself from the tower. Jane then cures the madwoman through kindness and sisterly care.
Caldwell is indeed funny, and determinedly so in this book. His earlier novels ("In Such Dark Places," "Bread For the Baker's Child") are on the dark side. In an interview, he said as a gay man filled with anger and hurt over losing friends to AIDS, he wrote fiction that reflected his mood. More recently he decided to turn to humorous fiction. This book is the first of a trilogy about the pig. Two more volumes are out — "The Pig Comes to Dinner" (2009) and "The Pig Goes to Hog Heaven" (2010) — each continuing with the same engaging characters, pig included.