Second-novelist Harris brings back characters from his Civil War–set Delirium of the Brave (1999), this time serving up a slew of Nazi spies, IRA agents, voodoo practitioners, religious mystics, and upper-crust locals—all of whose interactions too adroitly lead to one good man’s triumph.
It’s now the 1930s, and young Irish priest Michael Mulvaney arrives in Savannah, an IRA killer turned seminarian. Mulvaney has repented his ways, unlike fellow IRA member Francis Quinn, who in 1942 agrees to spy for the Nazis in return for guns for the IRA. Trained in Germany, Quinn demonstrates his loyalty by cold-bloodedly killing a Jewish prisoner in front of a young Jewish girl. Dropped from a submarine off the coast of Georgia, he kills his two handlers after they put him ashore, then makes his way to the McQueen shipyard, where he befriends the owner’s son Jimmy. When Jimmy joins up, so does Francis, having expediently changed sides after bumping off his local handler so he won’t be betrayed. After the war, Jimmy marries and has son Will , whose story now becomes our focus. Francis, along with two black voodoo practitioners who live on nearby Jesus Island, where the McQueens have a house, feel protective of Will, who’s destined for great things. Born with a harelip, Will endures surgery, military school, the loss of his legs in Vietnam, then, once home, goes into politics with his father’s blessing and Francis’s support. When a sunken German submarine is found with documents and photos of Francis in its safe, a mean-spirited enemy of Will’s obtains copies and gets ready to destroy Will’s career in Congress with the revelations of his old friend Francis’s past. Will is innocent and decent, though, so the forces of good rally to keep him safe for democracy—thanks to the serendipitous help of an alligator and some vengeful hoods.
Frenetic violence aside: a sweetly redemptive if strained tale of heroism, faith, and rough justice.