A long yarn recounting the life of Irish revolutionary Roger Casement and real-life best friend Herbert Ward, the British writer and artist.
It won’t be a spoiler to note that Casement was executed for treason by the British government, having traveled to Germany during World War I to solicit help for the cause of Irish independence. Did personal motivations underlie his devotion to that cause, perhaps connected to his guarded but evident homosexuality? (“Someone was saying at dinner that you’re like Wolf Tone,” one interlocutor says. “Maybe he liked boys?”) Certainly, Murray (Tales of the New World, 2011, etc.) recounts, Casement's friendship with Ward was unusually deep; in a closing moment, Ward finds a photograph that Casement has folded in half to exclude two other figures, so that “it appeared that they had been photographed as a couple.” But there is another love at play once Ward and Casement emerge from their career-defining adventures in the wilds of Africa: Sarita Sanford, a fetching heiress savvy enough to know that taking up with Ward is a fiscal risk that will pay off in “a loss of innocence”—to which she appends the dismissive thought, “How romantic.” Though the novel is populated with other characters, the essence of the story is the triangle formed by Sanford, Ward, and Casement; of the three, Sanford is the most interesting. Murray casts inevitable tragedy (“She feels a grip—a chill—and wonders why of all things she’s feeling this: the pull of grief”), but while she has a good eye for character, some of the energy of the story melts away in pointless chatter. The storyline could stand some tightening, too, though it resolves nicely.
Not at all bad, but given that Mario Vargas Llosa covered much of the same ground in his superior 2010 novel, The Dream of the Celt, Murray’s version of the Casement story seems superfluous.