WHEN, some three or four years ago, Donn Byrne wrote "Messer Marco Polo", people said in effect "He has written his masterpiece; he will never be able to surpass this in delicacy or in colorfulness." Last year when "Hangman's House," appeared as a best seller in the stalls people were a bit surprised. Here was a book that not only rivaled "Messer Marco Polo" on its own ground, so to speak, but had something else beside--a haunting something, intangible but with a sweet tang to it, like the smell of lavender or the earth after a rain. Now Donn Bryne appears once again--with "Brother Saul."
If truth, like murder, must out, I shall have to confess that it was with many misgivings that I took up "Brother Saul," After reading his other books there was a lurking fear that this one might not quite be up to their standard. Could this writer, the breath of whose nostrils is Ireland, and who in his other works writes, figuratively speaking, with emerald ink--could he so far forget his mountains and heather moors as to be able to transport himself back to the Palestine and Rome of some 2,000 years ago and enter into the spirit of Saul of Tarsus? It seemed barely possible.
Yet Mr. Byrne has accomplished the seemingly impossible--he has entered into the spirit of the times and of Saul, later to become St. Paul, with an extraordinary depth and keenness of penetration; he has vivified his subject without vulgarizing it. Indeed not the least remarkable thing about the book is the gallery of living portraits which the author paints; paints with such clearness, diversity and power that they seem actual breathing, human beings. In "Brother Saul," he has added to the charming lightness of touch and haunting melody of his style a certain strength, a subtle power that throws a brilliant light upon his characters and illustrates them through and through, while at the same time, he handles the old, and unfortunately often thread-bare, stories with an artistic delicacy that breathes into them a new life. In short "Brother Saul," lives--and that's the best one can say for any book.