Colin Barrett wrote a book review

WASHINGTONPOST

POSITIVE
The terrors in Colin Barrett’s debut novel, “Wild Houses,” seep across the page like black mold.
Barrett, who moved to Ireland as a child, has spent more than a decade publishing short stories.
His first collection, “Young Skins” (2013), won several awards, but with this lithe novel, he’s sure to find a wider audience.
The audiobook version of “Wild Houses,” narrated by a Sligo-born actor named Damian Gildea, sounds terrific, but it’s hard to compete with reading the text yourself.
AdvertisementThe action takes place during the Salmon Festival, a week-long celebration in Ballina, County Mayo, with music, parties and fireworks.
“You could never tell what lines they would elect to cross,” Barrett writes, “because they did not know either.”They’ve brought the latest contraband for Dev to store in his spooky basement.
The craft of “Wild Houses” shows a master writer spreading his wings — not for show but like the stealthy attack of a barn owl.
AdvertisementBut the real focus of “Wild Houses” remains Dev, this gentle accomplice to a kidnapping — and possibly worse.
Clearly, those years of writing short stories have given Barrett an appreciation for how fit every sentence must be; there isn’t a slacker in this trim book.
Wild HousesBy Colin Barrett

In “Wild Houses,” Colin Barrett’s first book, the horrors creep across the page like black mold. Yes, there is action in this thriller as well—fights, kidnappings, extortions—but the most terrifying part is when opportunities are cauterized and hopes are dashed in the penumbra of small-town crime.

After moving to Ireland as a child, Barrett has published short stories for more than ten years. His 2013 debut collection, “Young Skins,” took home multiple accolades, but he’s sure to reach a larger readership with this slim novel. He writes character-driven stories with a distinctively Irish accent, giving wretched people the kind of attention that other people will never give them.

Though narrated by actor Damian Gildea, who was born in Sligo, the audiobook version of “Wild Houses” sounds fantastic, it can’t quite match the experience of reading the book for yourself. Barrett’s conversation, laced with bits of regional vernacular and the rhythms of Irish speech, brings these characters to life in a way that will have you wiping their drool off your face.

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Scenery is set against the backdrop of Ballina, County Mayo’s Salmon Festival, a weeklong extravaganza featuring music, dance, and fireworks. However, the story begins at Dev Hendrick’s quiet, funereal home in the countryside. This enormous man could be dead for all anyone knows, lying in the dark on his sofa, but no one ever comes to check on him. Barrett describes him as having lived alone, in the middle of nowhere, and never having left the house. The local drug lord uses Dev’s place as a holding station for “product,” so even though Dev’s physical and social isolation may be taking a toll on his life, it serves as a selling point. Dev is perfectly content with that arrangement, but the advantages of passive income are going to disappear quickly.

A car approaches the house through the nighttime rain. The Ferdia brothers, two thugs, have arrived. One has “the curated muscle of a gym freak,” while the other has “a face on him like a vandalized church.”. Their moments of civility are merely a sarcastic playacting stance, and they exude a wild aggression.”. According to Barrett, “you could never tell what lines they would choose to cross because they did not know either.”. “.

They’ve brought the newest illegal item for Dev to stash in his eerie basement. It’s a scared teenage boy, though, not the typical sports bag of drugs. Barrett notes, “He would have looked like any young fella you’d see shaping around the town on a Friday night, punctiliously spruced for the disco,” but he’s already been roughed up a little, and his attempt to project toughness isn’t helped by his nickname, Doll.

Promoting something.

“This isn’t where I should be,” the boy remarks.

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These people shouldn’t be here at all. However, this new violent cycle has been going for a year already. Doll didn’t initiate it in any way. Just to put pressure on his slick older brother, who lost 30,000 euros worth of cocaine, the thugs picked him up off the street. He’s tried to repay nearly half of the debt, but it appears he needs some additional encouragement to pay the remaining amount. Perhaps the family’s ability to focus will all improve if his younger brother is held captive.

With “Wild Houses,” a master writer stretches his wings, not for show but rather akin to a barn owl’s cunning attack. The most striking scenes are those of expected brutality, expertly rendered vignettes that capture the lives of people caught in this deadly trade, even though there are violent moments scattered throughout the narrative.

Barrett skillfully writes his book so that we discover Doll’s kidnapping right away, but his friends and family remain in the dark for hours, feeling trouble before they realize anything is wrong. In a town where the boys range from alcoholics to jerks, Nicky, Doll’s perceptive girlfriend, is finding it difficult to be patient. She is unsure if she wants to continue dating Doll because she knows that college will provide better partners if she can make it there, but she feels compelled to protect him from whatever may be wrong. Being the only adult in the room at just 17 years old, she is the astute heroine of the novel.

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The true star of “Wild Houses” is still Dev, the kind-hearted go-along with a kidnapping that may even be worse. He had already turned into a human sinkhole before the passing of his cherished mother. He’s now buried them both in his misery rather than preserving her memory. He continues to store her old prescriptions in a kitchen Tupperware tub. Recollections of the abused upbringing that shaped this broken man are heartbreaking; Dev’s depiction of his adult life is possibly the most horrifying account of loneliness I’ve ever read. I have also read all of Anita Brookner’s books.

It may seem impossible given the general gloom, but Barrett’s electrifying style is evident in the way these chapters burst with vitality and even a hint of humor. Flashes of absurdity or comic exasperation broke tense moments. Barrett’s years of writing short stories have obviously given him an understanding of how well-fit every sentence needs to be; this slim book is devoid of slackers. The project progresses rapidly towards a poignant and tense climax, resembling a strange cloak made of wool and wire, even with the aid of asides and flashbacks.

Ron Charles is a book reviewer and writer for The Washington Post’s Book Club newsletter.

untamed homes.

by Barrett Colin.

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