The Abstainer by Ian McGuire

‘I do my duty, sir … as best I can.’

Manchester, 1867.  The Fenians are intent on ending British rule in Ireland.   Three men, the Manchester Martyrs— William Phillip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien— are to be executed for the murder of a police officer in Manchester.  A new cycle of violence is about to begin.

Two men are central to this novel.

James O’Connor has left Dublin.  The death of his wife had driven him to drink and has made a sober start as Head Constable in Manchester.  His mission is to discover the plans of the Fenians and thwart them.  He has a network of informers.

Stephen Doyle, an Irish American veteran of the American Civil War and a Fenian, arrives in Manchester from New York.  He is seeking vengeance: a high-profile assassination in retaliation.  On the same boat as Stephen Doyle, is Michael O’Sullivan, James O’Connor’s nineteen-year-old nephew.

The fates of Doyle and O’Connor become entwined.  Informers become victims; O’Connor becomes a convenient scapegoat.  His tentative hopes for the future are dashed.

The novel starts as a police procedural and then becomes thriller, as Doyle’s plans near conclusion. We learn about both men: their flaws and strengths.

And then there is a twist, which takes the action to America. 

This is a tense, well-developed story with a couple of twists which both held my attention and had me wondering about justice.

Highly recommended.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith