by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): Old God’s Time is a stand-alone novel by award-winning Irish author, Sebastian Barry. Now nine months retired after forty years in the Gardai, Tom Kettle lives in the Annex Flat of Queenstown Castle on Dalkey Island. His existence is fairly solitary, frugal and uncomplicated. He sees his landlord, wealthy Mr Tomelty, weeding the garden, and sometimes catches sight of the boy who lives with his actress mother in the Turret Flat, or hears the cellist in the Drawing Room Flat shooting at cormorants from his balcony.

But on a storm-threatening February afternoon, Gardai Wilson and O’Casey come wanting the former Detective Sergeant’s input on their latest case, a difficult and sensitive matter: a priest whose previous molestation case had been quashed by the higher-ups, now to be prosecuted. What they want to know about stirs all sorts of memories Tom would rather not think about.

“Yes, he had grown to love this interesting inactivity and privacy – perhaps too much, he thought, and duty still lurked in him. The shaky imperative of forty years in the police, despite everything.”

Then a special request from his former CO, Detective Superintendent Jake Fleming brings him in to Harcourt Street. He’s asked to share what he recalls of the investigation that he and his meticulous colleague, Billy Drury carried out into a pair of priests in the early eighties. He relates how frustrating it was that the evidence provided by Scotland Yard was passed, on order of the Chief Commissioner, to the Archbishop to handle, with the expected non-result.

Mention is made of what they believe to be a spurious accusation by the priest now under charges, about the murder of his priestly colleague, not long after the detectives investigation. The memories that dredges up, Tom would also wish to avoid. Now a decade widowed, Tom is thrust into memories of meeting his wife, and the confessions, made to each other, of their awful childhoods in Catholic-run orphanages, revelations that bonded them.

It eventually becomes clear that Tom might not be the most reliable of narrators: some of what he relates is definitely imagined. As people, places and conversations trigger long-repressed memories, Tom’s thoughts gradually reveal the truth of events, of a crime unsolved, and the reasons this good man is now utterly alone in a tiny flat surrounded by books still in boxes. “A sort of blossoming sense of relief maybe, that the wretched Fates had done with him. Had noticed his great happiness long ago, and emblem by emblem taken it away from him.”

This story is very much a slow burn: Barry indulges in digressions and tangents that sometimes seem to be unrelated but all add to the rich tapestry of the lives he is describing. In a story that powerfully demonstrates the devastating effect, on so many lives, of the Church’s systemic cover-up of abuse by those entrusted with the care of children, and the power of the Catholic Church, even into high levels of the legal system, over Irish society, Barry gives Tom one final, dramatic act to save a child from that danger.

As always, Barry’s descriptive prose, be it applied to characters or setting, is exquisite: “O’Casey, a long thin person, with that severe leanness that probably made all his clothes look too big on him, to the despair of his wife, if he had one” and “The sunlight stuck its million pins into the pollocky sea, the whole expanse sparked, and sparkled, as if on the very verge of a true conflagration” and “he found he couldn’t tidy his frazzled mind” are just a few examples. This is a beautifully written, intensely affecting read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Faber & Faber