Mack’s debut historical thriller centers on the O’Hare family in Ireland in the mid-19th century and Irishman Jack Danaher, who’s made his home in America in the 1980s.
Sean O’Hare and his wife and children, like others in their homeland, are dying from starvation and disease. Sean’s son, Paddy, decides whether joining the rebellion against the ruling English will help his country’s people. Later, Jack himself lives through much of “the Troubles” and endures Bloody Sunday, where his sister May is one of the protestors killed by British soldiers. The rebellion grows increasingly violent as the years pass. The Irish Republican Army buys arms in the U.S., and both sides, English and Irish, commit outright murder. The O’Hare plot is the more engrossing of the two storylines, centering on Sean’s family as they’re faced with a failing potato crop and harsh winters. It’s an ardent story that shows the family’s personal trials against the backdrop of a country in upheaval. The other half of the novel introduces numerous characters involved in the fight against England, including IRA members, but is a little less focused. Jack is just one of many men in the novel who may be killing loyalists. But he shares so much of the stage with other characters—including cousin Sean Curran and powerful, godfather-esque Jimmy O’Hare—that he isn’t a bona fide protagonist. He even reconnects with lost love Joanie, but the reunion is too short and pales compared with Paddy’s traditional romance—Paddy first asks permission from the father of his love interest before courting her. Still, there are unforgettable scenes, particularly Sean Curran and others in an Irish prison; deeming themselves political prisoners, they stage a hunger strike. The uncompromising ending, too, is both open and rather unnerving.
Ireland’s history is well incorporated, but it’s the characters’ firsthand accounts that resonate the loudest.