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No 'Tinkering' with success: Kelley's latest is best yet

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By Jenna McKenna

With its thrilling juxtaposition of Miami Vice and the Irish Troubles, Pierce Kelley's latest legal thriller, A Tinker's Damn! may be his best work yet.

Kevin Coffee, Kelley's latest protagonist, is an Irish immigrant growing up in New York City when the story begins. Poverty and prejudice lead him into the criminal world for the benefit of his family. With no father and no outside help, he learns to steal food so his family can eat. As an adult, he develops a morally ambiguous worldview, moving to Mariel boatlift-era Miami to become an opportunistic drug smuggler.

Coffee's acumen and adroit maneuvering ahead of the law and other criminals keep him out of prison. The misfortune and resourcefulness that shaped him, as well as his sympathetic personality, keep the reader from turning against him. His dealings with beautiful Irish attorney Siobhan O'Sullivan and love for Irish Republican Army member Maeve Connelly add tension and romance to an already gripping story.

When Coffee, for both practical and emotional reasons, branches out into running guns for the IRA, Kelley weaves this action seamlessly into the lonely gangster's search for his heritage and family.

Exhaustively researched and scintillatingly detailed, as always, Kelley gives the reader a close-up view of the Byzantine workings of the laws and courts that deal with drugs, arms and racketeering. For those interested in the history of the struggle to free the Irish Republic from Britain, Kelley provides a part of the story that is rarely seen.

Finally, the portrayal of Coffee includes some fascinating information about Irish Travelers, a nomadic people about whom little is known, and whose culture and numbers are fast disappearing. The Travelers are also known in some circles as Irish Gipsies or Tinkers, the latter referring to their longtime role of itinerant menders of tools and kitchen implements.

Kelley, a former resident and longtime habitue of Cedar Key, is an attorney for Three Rivers Legal Services, a provider of free civil legal services for low-income clients. A former public defender, Kelley draws on his decades of trial experience on behalf of marginalized people for his sympathetic renderings of people on the edge of society and the law.

In his earlier books, he has helped readers see themselves in such complicated situations as a prosecution for drunk driving and manslaughter (A Very Fine Line), a manslaughter case following an attempted robbery (A Plenary Indulgence), and the endless double-jeopardy that is the life of a drug informant (Bocas del Toro).

Kelley brings the reader to care about his protagonists - some naturally sympathetic, some the reader would typically cross the street to avoid - by drawing them into the almost inexorable chain of events that ensnares the protagonists.

"I want the reader to look at these characters and say, 'There, but for the grace of God, go I,'" says Kelley.

A Tinker's Damn! may be purchased in Cedar Key at the Cactus Rose Café and other reading outlets, or by contacting the author at piercekelley@yahoo.com.

Pierce Kelley will sign his latest book, A Tinker's Damn!, at Goerings Bookstore in Gainesville on Wednesday, May 21. Goerings is located at 1717 NW First Avenue in Gainesville. Call 352-377-3703 for more information.