Blesok no. 45, November-December, 2005
Le Trace de Dieu, Mapping God - Fred Johnston
Fred Johnston's novel is written in both English and French, with the translation by Eoghan de Hoog. It is a mystery novel centring on the finding of the body of a young girl in an Irish coastal village, a mystery which is deepened by both the climate and setting, a community hemmed in between mountain and sea. A further air of impenetrability is added by the nameless characters who are carefully drawn but remain anonymous.
The dark secrets of a village life are gradually revealed, secrets over which the mountain looms, both reflecting the mood of the village and protecting it from the outside world. The unfolding of the murder case is revealed through the personal testimony of those most involved, Brian the barman, the priest, Father Dermody, and the man all suspected, the disturbing character who was most closely involved with the young girl. Gradually, and with a turn of phrase that reveals his poet's pen, the author chronicles a series of events which have impacted on his characters over a number of years, skilfully weaving together the old and the new stories, the old and the new murders, so that the reader comes to an understanding of the forces that have been at play, however hidden, to lead to the present tragedy.
And then there are the outsiders, those who are part of the village but are yet distant. The Barton family, whose privileged lives set them apart from the villagers they serve in shop and garage; the Major, an Englishman who has settled in the village; Guido, the immigrant whose children have settled into school; and Manny, the old woman who leads a hippy lifestyle and whom the children believe to be a witch. Also contrasted are the local policeman and the detective drafted in to investigate the murder, and the young reporter who finds himself unwillingly drawn in to the dark secrets of the village. The denouement is startling in its complexity, but when the guilty are led away the mountain once again becomes “benevolent and impassive” as it looks down on the village. “Mapping God” has combined language infused with imagery with a gripping story line to produce an affecting novel.