Review of John Coyne's (Ethiopia 1962-64) Novel Hobgoblin

hobgoblin2015-140Hobgoblin (new issue)
John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64)
Dover Publications
September 2015
320 pages
$14.95 (paperback) $9.99 (Kindle)

Reviewed by Bob Arias (Colombia 1964-66)


Boo! Trick or Treat?

No, this isn’t a Halloween novel with Ghosts, Vampires, and Witches. This is a murder mystery, with bodies everywhere. From Connecticut, where young Scott attended Spencertown Academy to Flat Rock, a rural high school in Crossroads, New York. Scott and his beautiful Mom Barbara have moved south after his father Warren dies of a heart attack. The mystery just gets started as Barbara takes on the position of Historian for a medieval castle known as Ballycastle. Built by wealthy Irishman Fergus O’Cuileannain, who is a rather weird individual, cared for by another Irish Serf named Conor Fitzpatrick. Conor resembles a fast walking Hobbit always carrying on in his Irish Gaelic.

What a setting. Ballycastle is three hours from New York City and built in the 1930’s. Young 16 year old Scott is a master player as his classmates would shout, and his Hobgoblin game piece Brian Borù unstoppable.  Brian Borù, a twenty-five level paladin, who had played dozens of adventures in the ancient land of Erin of long ago. The adventure of Hobgoblin is Scott’s life.

Yet when he and his Mom move to Ballycastle, he continues to live out the spirit of the Celtic knight and plans for more battles that Brian Borù could face and win . . . he is Brian Borù himself. Scott’s new and only friend at Flat Rock High is leggy Valerie. She is strong and stands up for her point of view, at times challenging Scott. And sometimes he takes on the Football Neanderthals like, Nick and Hank, who seem to be threatened by anyone with an IQ over 90.

The plot thickens and yes, Halloween is around the corner. Barbara begins to uncover strange events in Ballycastle’s past, where several very young women die within a year upon arriving at Ballycastle. There is even a small cemetery where the young Irish women, some as young as 16, were buried. And the “deathly departed” Fergus O’Cuileannain appears as the Black Annis out of the Celtic past.

I found that I could not put this book down, and later found myself having strange dreams of the little folks that make up Irish tales . . . one great and very special move into a murder mystery from a Celtic game board to a medieval castle in New York. Can’t say more or I give the ending away . . . check the body bags as events begin to roll.

Reviewer Bob Arias was a Rural Community Development PCV in Colombia 1963-64, and an Associate Peace Corps Director in Colombia from 1968 to 1973, and Peace Corps Country Director in Uruguay and Argentina from 1993 to 1995. He returned to work at the Peace Corps from 2001 to 2003 assisting in establishing the agency’s Safety and Security Office. Now retired from Los Angeles County where he worked as a Compliance Officer, Bob served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer (formerly known as a Crisis Corps) since 2009, in Paraguay, Colombia, and now for a second time, in Panamá.

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