“This is Dickens in the present tense, Dickens for the twenty-first century.”—Roddy Doyle, The New York Times Book Review
An Irishman in nineteenth-century England is forced to take sides when his nephew joins the bloody underground movement for independence in this propulsive novel from the acclaimed author of The North Water.
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY CHICAGO TRIBUNE AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times • The New York Public Library • New Statesman • Publishers Weekly
Manchester, England, 1867. The rebels will be hanged at dawn, and their brotherhood is already plotting its revenge.
Stephen Doyle, an Irish-American veteran of the Civil War, arrives in Manchester from New York with a thirst for blood. He has joined the Fenians, a secret society intent on ending British rule in Ireland by any means necessary. Head Constable James O’Connor has fled grief and drink in Dublin for a sober start in Manchester. His job is to discover and thwart the Fenians’ plans whatever they might be. When a long-lost nephew arrives on O’Connor’s doorstep looking for work, he cannot foresee the way his fragile new life will be imperiled—and how his and Doyle’s fates will become fatally intertwined.
In this propulsive tale of the underground war for Irish independence, the author of The North Water once again transports readers to a time when blood begot blood. Moving from the dirt and uproar of industrial Manchester to the quiet hills of rural Pennsylvania, The Abstainer is a searing novel in which two men, haunted by their pasts and driven forward by the need for justice and retribution, must fight for life and legacy.
McGuire (The North Water) imagines the early years of the Fenian Brotherhood in this taut, atmospheric tale of an Irish American freedom fighter and an Irish detective squaring off on the rainy streets of Manchester, England, in 1867. James O'Connell accepted a transfer from the Dublin police department to Manchester after exhausting the goodwill of his superiors, who initially tolerated his drunkenness out of sympathy for O'Connell being a widower. In Manchester, he's tasked with gathering intelligence from the local Fenians, who are in a rabble over the hanging of three men. After O'Connell's main source, Thomas Flanagan, gets a message to O'Connell that the Fenians have sent American Civil War veteran Stephen Doyle to Manchester to orchestrate a retaliation for the hangings, Flanagan is found out and murdered. The episode tugs on O'Connell's conscience, especially after he meets Flanagan's grieving sister, Rose. The arrival of another American, O'Connell's nephew Michael Sullivan, complicates things further, as Michael is determined to infiltrate the Fenians to catch Doyle in exchange for a reward. McGuire demonstrates a mastery of classic realism, building the characters through their reactions to unflinching scenes of brutality, from a Manchester rat-baiting pit to memories of Civil War combat and a botched public hanging. Manchester in particular is evoked with keen impressionistic detail ("Outside, the rain repeats itself, low and constant, like the hum of a machine or the words of a prayer"). Plot threads of romance and revenge emerge from O'Connell's dogged impulsiveness, as he pursues Rose and then Doyle through Manchester and beyond. McGuire's crackling work is one to savor.