The dark side of the Irish Civil War, as seen from the little burg of Wexford, and recalled by an ex-rebel to his daughter and dead wife.
Rather than make guerrilla action against the English overlords seem exciting, Doyle (Dancing with Minnie the Twig, not reviewed) is more interested in the mundane activities of well-meaning but hardly skilled agitators far from the action in Dublin. His protagonist is Jim Rowe, leader of his town’s detachment of Irish Volunteers in the troublesome years immediately following World War I. The novel begins rather like a comedy, with Rowe’s Volunteers training with sticks and trying to follow the directives of their local brigade commander, who dresses the boys down after a ham-handed attempt to steal guns demonstrates their lack of discipline (“Mavericks would be shot—if the necessary bullets could only be found”). But the war itself is deadly serious: The Black and Tans—sociopathic thugs barely masquerading as British soldiers—are roaming the countryside, terrorizing at will. A number of surprisingly (for the Volunteers) well-planned ambushes go awry and reveal the probable location of a traitor. From then on, the novel slides into cold, fatalistic tragedy, shedding any romantic notions about the glory of battle or the purity of armed resistance.
Graceful etchings of ordinary men swept up in the tide of war, trying not to lose their souls along the way.