by Jess Kidd
“A long, thin, raw-boned polluted old giant,” Flood reigns over his Victorian mansion, Bridlemere, where “spiders spin webs like Baroque masterpieces. They hang all through the house like coded warnings.”
A retired artist, a mechanical engineer, a curiosities dealer and a hoarder, he’s in a continual battle with his son, Gabriel, who wants him to move to a residential care facility, and the local authorities and neighbors who want the debris cleared out.
Flood’s stunningly beautiful wife Mary died in a fall down a flight of stairs in the house some 20 years earlier.
Maud has tragedies of her own from a childhood in County Donegal and lives with a revolving series of ghosts. She’s unflappable as Flood argues about how much of the house she’s cleaning, curses her, lurks, spies, flatters, threatens and tells wonderful stories. She names the many semi-feral cats for top writers — Hemingway, Dame Cartland and Burroughs. She wakes up every day with uneasiness about going to work. The foreboding and dread grow as she approaches the house.
Renata Sparks, Maud’s agoraphobic, transgender landlady, is enthralled by Cathal Flood and his late wife Mary. An armchair detective, she’s convinced someone has been or will be murdered. Especially when Maud finds photos that suddenly appear in different parts of the house. Both are of a boy and a girl; the girl’s face has been burned or cut out of the photograph. On the back of one photo, her name has been scratched out.
In author Jess Kidd’s gifted hands, the mysteries grow and thicken, the truth hides and nothing is exactly as it seems to be. For the first third or so of the book, it’s difficult to even tell what the mystery is. Maud, who is so down-to-earth and practical when it comes to dealing with Flood and his threats, frequently gets lost in her bad memories of the past and the commentary of the eccentric saints who haunt her. With such an obviously untrustworthy narrator, it becomes a mystery in itself to determine what’s real and what isn’t.
The writing in this book is a joy to read. Maud describes a “whole day (in Bridlemere) stripped in a maze of clutter with a brockets old maniac liable to rear up at any moment, all clacking dentures and spitttle-flecked gizzards . . . my only defense is a constant vigilance and a willingness to kick an octogenarian right up his hole.”
Describing the beach where her 15-year-old sister disappeared in Donegal, Maud says, “It was a place of shifting sand, singing sand, sinking sand, hard packed made-for-running-on sand. Sand with a sheen to it, a certain luster in the right light moonlight, starlight, dawnlight). A long crescent swoon of a beach, even its name was magical: Pearl Strand.”
This was a delicious book to read: beautiful writing, a mesmerizing mystery and a wonderful balance of the grounded and the other worldly.
About the Author: Jess Kidd (1973 – )
Mr. Flood’s Last Resort (titled The Hoarder in the United Kingdom), published in February 2018, is her second novel. Her third novel, Things in Jars (2019), featured Victorian detective Bridie Devine.