The second installment of the Winship trilogy continues the story of turn-of-the-century Irish politician James Winship and also focuses on his children, William and Cornelia.
The book opens in 1898 with radical Fenian gunmen entering James’ house while he and his wife, Jane, sleep. James shoots one, but a second wounds him and kills Jane. Eventually, James recovers and resumes his political career. His son William follows in his footsteps, joining the Ulster regiment of the British Army in India. William has a different temperament than his father’s; he learns best by rote and finds success from the start by avoiding the drinking and gambling that once bedeviled his father. The best example of his disposition comes during one of author McCarthy’s exciting battle scenes, as even at war William falls back on schooling: “But before he ended his war cry, William plunged his sword in the tribesman’s side, jerking it up and under the rib cage, as he was taught to do at Sandhurst.” In spite of William’s courage, he’s court martialed due to an accusation of cowardice by Ivor Sudbury, the youngest of a clan that’s been at odds with the Winships for generations. Again, in this sequel, McCarthy combines fictional and historical characters to great effect, as when a young Winston Churchill serves as William’s lawyer. Troubles with the Sudburys continue to fester when James beats Ivor’s father, Wilton, in a parliamentary election. Meanwhile, in America, Cornelia grows into a fine, independent woman under her great-aunt Liza’s tutelage, and she takes a liking to Brendan, the son of Liza’s Irish maid. Complicating matters, Brendan, who works for Tammany Hall, has a brother with Fenian ties and terrifying future plans. A tale of naïveté and deceit follows, culminating in an exciting conclusion that sets up a third book in the series.
Mandatory for readers of the first Winship book, but this engaging blend of action, intrigue and history can stand alone.