Thursday, February 10, 2005

House of Pain by James M. McGowan

House of Pain” by James M. McGowan, Hardluck Stories, Winter 2005

This story is set in Northern Ireland and follows an IRA cell when four men arrive at a bar. They’ve come to pick up a suspected traitor. They will hold a trial and, if the man is found guilty, an execution. That is the plot. Almost. There is one other very subtle plot line operating.

Mr. McGowan is a skillful writer. He uses the appearance of British patrols to build suspense, and the atmosphere is well drawn. The desperation and fear of the suspected traitor builds convincingly from nonchalance when he is first picked up through naked terror at the end. Very nicely done.

And that other plot line I mentioned? I said it was subtle. I missed it entirely on the first reading. I found it the second time through. The setup occurs in one paragraph, two sentences, near the beginning of the story, just after two of the cell members enter the pub to bring out the traitor. It gives the main character’s actions another level of meaning. A very skillful use of setup-payoff.

Oh, one other thing. One member of the cell, the main character in this first-person telling, is a bit crazier than the others, and seeing that they are IRA, that’s saying something. That character is named McGowan. It’s probably a good thing that I liked this story.

In short, skillfully executed.