Jeff Wallach’s debut novel, Mr Wizard is a light-hearted and highly entertaining story of family secrets and the adventure of discovering new family connections. The last words Jenny Elliot mentioned to her son Phillip before passing away, was about an Irish golf pro in Ballydraiocht, Ireland. That cryptic message made no sense because Phillip was Jewish, from New York, and his father, Jack, was an American war hero who went missing in action during the Vietnam War.
Jenny was a mother who encouraged her two sons Phillip and Spencer into puzzles and tricks, and now she has left them with a bewildering puzzle that will transform their lives. Curious and unsettled Phillip took a DNA ancestry test and revealed he was forty-six per cent Ashkenazi Jew and forty per cent Irish/British. Convincing Spencer to also take the test his resulted in his stating the same forty-six per cent Ashkenazi Jew but forty per cent originating in Spain.
“ ‘I’m considering entertaining the idea that we had two different fathers,’ Spencer said. ‘Neither of whom was the father we both thought we had. Which also makes me sad. Yours was an Irish golf pro. Mine was most likely a Spanish prince.’ ”
Their investigation reveals secrets that their mother had kept hidden all their lives and as they begin the search to find their biological fathers, they realise their mother was a greater mystery.
“ ‘Aunt Phyllis was right: It’s not all about our fathers at all. We have no idea who our mother was.’ ”
The adventure to Ireland was very well depicted where Jeff brought out many of the cultural characteristics of Ireland and its humour without playing on the crass stereotypical “top of the mornin’ to ya’. He showed Ireland as a progressive country with modern views on relationships and religion, all which played out in the story. The new family members, the two brothers met in Ireland, provided a wonderful range of personalities and the sage advice from Patrick – the golf pro and Phillip’s confirmed father – was warming, mature and thoughtful. It was suggested that his lessons found deeper resonance with the person than instructions on the golf swing.
The plot is very entertaining and its mysteries are fascinating. There is an observational quality to the reactions of Phillip and Spencer when introduced to the new family. They are family to Phillip but not Spencer, and how the story and relationships develop, is neither obvious nor complex. The dialogue is laced with wonderful subtle humour and the conversations between many of the characters is a delight with sarcastic interplay and witty perceptions.
This is a lovely upbeat story that hugely entertains and I would recommend it. I would rate it 4.5 stars and I’d like to thank Jeff Wallach for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.