Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Patrick Dunne - The Lazarus Bell

Trim-born novelist Patrick Dunne launched the latest Boyne Berries and was a featured reader at our inaugural Boyne Readings and Open Mic so I thought I'd better read one of his books. I started with the second in the Illaun Bowe series The Lazarus Bell published in 2006 by Tivoli, an imprint of Gill and Macmillan.

It's a thrilling read set in a town called Castleboyne which is based on Trim. Part of the enjoyment of the novel was trying to figure out the geography of the plot and seeing which details were inventions. Illaun Bowe is an archaeologist who gets involved with plague graveyards, mediaeval lead coffins, coffin liquor, ritual murder, tabloid excesses and a very handsome South African pathologist and that's just for starters!

Much of the excitement in the novel centres on the discovery of a beautiful carved wooden Madonna, sealed tightly into a lead coffin. This is believed by many to be the image of Our Lady of Castleboyne which was venerated during the middle ages. There was an image of Our Lady of Trim which attracted many pilgrims before the reformation.

I didn't realise the significance of the novel's title until well past half way when it is discovered that the large stained glass window to Our Lady of Castleboyne/Trim contains clues to solve the mystery including a picture of the flower fritillaria meleagris. The Lazarus Bell was an old name for this flower. It was believed this was a corruption of Lazar's Bells or Lepers' Lilies, because the shape and markings of the flowers were suggestive of leprosy, while the overall shape of the flower was reminiscent of the bells attached to the clothing of beggar-lepers to announce their arrival or warn of their presence. More here.

There is such a stained glass window in St Patrick's Church, Trim but it doesn't have any fritillaries in it as far as I know.

By coincidence there are a few of the flower in bloom in our garden at the moment. Picture below.


Reviews of the book here and here. Patrick Dunne mentions some of his influences here.

Can't wait to start Dunne's A Carol for the Dead.

1 comment:

BarbaraS said...

Nice coincidence the fritillaries being in bloom now. This sounds like a good read... another one to add to the massive pile of books I have to read :)