Hodder Headline Ireland, €6.99

Brian Kennedy's first novel, 'The Arrival of Fergal Flynn', saw his young protagonist, Fergal Flynn, depart his native Belfast to study singing in Rome under renowned maestro Alfredo Moretti. 'Roman Song' begins with Fergal starting his new life, finding his feet and making new friends in Italy, but also struggling to leave his past, both good and bad, behind him. It's very much a case of good and bad for this novel too, with Kennedy hitting some notes very well, but falling far short in other aspects.

Fergal himself is a charming mix of nerves and determination. He carries with him all the pain of growing up in Troubles-ridden Belfast, while also trying to hide the fact that he is gay from his intolerant family. We see him trying to make peace with his relations and attempting to move past the memory of his first love, the local priest, Father Mac. It was hard to believe in the relationship they shared in the first book, however, and Kennedy abandons all realism when we are introduced to Fintan Fiscetti, the son of famous opera singer Brendan Fiscetti, an old friend of Alfredo's, whose reappearance in Rome brings some painful memories for Alfredo.

While there are some very heartfelt moments in 'Roman Song', the majority of the happenings here are ridiculously frivolous, especially given that this all takes place in the 1980s when homosexuality wasn't so openly accepted. Kennedy is clearly indulging in fantasy, which is a pity, because he's capable of better.

Where he concentrates on Fergal, it's obvious that Kennedy knows what he's talking about; it's easy to tell that he's been where Fergal is, but the various love affairs are laughably unbelievable and far too descriptive. It is always difficult to write about love, but many authors don't seem to know what not to say and Kennedy is one of those.

Sadly, 'Roman Song' is a very hit and miss effort from an author who is capable of far better.

Katie Moten