In Roddy Doyle's 1999 novel A Star Called Henry, an early-20th-century Irish guerrilla named Henry Smart battles the British in his nation's war of independence. That book began Doyle's "Last Roundup" trilogy, followed by 2004's Oh, Play That Thing, in which Hollywood icons Henry Fonda and John Ford save Smart from almost certain death in an American desert. The final installment, this year's The Dead Republic, finds a one-legged Smart returning with actors John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara to an early-1950s Ireland doomed to be riven by loyalist bombings twenty years hence.
As he finished writing A Star Called Henry, "I knew that Henry would be leaving Ireland and going to America, and I knew that I'd need an excuse to bring him back to Ireland," Doyle said. "I'd read a biography of a veteran of the Irish War of Independence called Ernie O'Malley. The biography included the fascinating, almost absurd, detail that O'Malley had assisted John Ford in the making of The Quiet Man" — a 1952 romantic comedy starring Wayne and O'Hara — "and was credited as the 'IRA Consultant.' So I thought, 'I'll make Henry the IRA consultant.' Then I had to come up with a way for them to meet. Ford made many films in the desert, so I sent Henry to the desert."
The Booker Prize-winning author/playwright's reading at Moe's (2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley) on Friday, May 7, will be his only Bay Area appearance. To research the new book, Doyle devoured biographies of Ford and Wayne along with accounts of the making of The Quiet Man and "anything at all that might give me a glimpse of the people or the weather or the setting, both in Los Angeles and Ireland," he said. "I stared at photographs, watched a lot of movies — never a hardship." The closer the plot drew to Doyle's birth year, 1958, "the less research I had to do. He was wandering my streets — and my head."
Voracious reading also helps Doyle create authentic voices for his characters. In Oh, Play That Thing, Henry meets renowned jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. "Armstrong carried a typewriter everywhere he went, for years. He left behind two memoirs and thousands of letters," Doyle explained. "He used the word 'nice' a lot. It's usually a bland word, but in his hands and from his mouth, it was lively and funny. So I took that word and made him use it in the novel. Getting to know the characters and their distinctive rhythms and words is a gradual process, and very slow at first. "
The political violence with which the trilogy began persists through its final volume as Henry Smart survives a pub bombing. "The bomb wakes him," Doyle said. "He becomes aware again about the Troubles in the North, that there seems to be unfinished business, that the trouble didn't end just because he left Ireland in 1922." 7:30 p.m., free. MoesBooks.com