A historical thriller about two real-life Irish Catholics who were arrested for a brutal murder in early 19th-century Boston.
The great flood of Irish immigration has barely begun in 1805, but New England is a seedbed of nativist resentment all the same. Staunchly Protestant and overwhelmingly xenophobic, the Yankees of the new republic fear foreigners and hate Catholics—especially when the two are one. For French priest Jean Cheverus, the newcomers are both a challenge and a promise as he works among them to build a Catholic society in the New World, but to most Bostonians the Irish are a plague of locusts intent on despoiling their paradise. When a peaceable farmer is murdered in broad daylight on the Post Road in November 1805 and two Irishmen are charged with the crime, these fears seem justified. Dominic Daley and James Halligan are found near the scene with their pockets full of the dead man’s money and are identified by an eyewitness who saw them with the victim that very day. It looks like a good case for the prosecution, and the truth is that even a poor one would probably get an Irish Catholic hanged. Daley’s devout wife and parents, however, refuse to believe the charge, and they ask Father Cheverus to intervene with the governor. Cheverus, who lived through the French Revolution and fears a new persecution in Boston, wants to keep the Church neutral, but he also feels obliged to help members of his flock. Daley and Halligan, for their part, swear that they are innocent and claim they found the money in a field. Their lawyer is given only three days to prepare their case. Don’t expect a replay of the Amistad trial here.
Writing with a good feel for the period, White (Marked Man, 2000, etc.) manages to get the history right and keep the narrative taut at the same time.