A very well produced work by an excellent writer. Yet somehow I finished it thinking of it as an opportunity almost lost within a too-complex plot.
Set mainly in the famine-ridden Ireland of 1847 the author paints a realistic and detailed picture of the country and its people. Joseph Locke, master railway engineer, is persuaded to travel to Ireland to attempt to save his erstwhile foreman John Spellman (Irish Jack) from the gallows. Self-interest (Locke’s latest railway project hangs in the balance) and womanly wiles set him on his journey more than any particular sense of justice.
The grandeur of Dublin is soon replaced by the horrors of the potato famine as Locke heads west. Whilst grain and cattle are loaded into ships at Dublin Port, the ordinary country people starve. The author paints a realistic picture of the disease, suffering and death of the populace as they are evicted from their poor scraps of land to try for emigration or to face certain death in the ditch or workhouse. It is moving stuff.
Meanwhile Locke encounters opposition to his merciful venture. Spellman will most likely be convicted by a Protestant jury. Whilst Locke seeks evidence that will save him it appears that his presence is unwelcome by many. Is this to save their own guilty skin perhaps? The Crown’s representatives resent his interference, yet it seems he is also thwarting the plans for a popular rebellion that depends on Spellman hanging to light the fuse.
Ireland’s affairs have always been complex but the author has no intention of simplifying things for us. Friends become enemies, informers become confidants. And at every turn Locke has women throwing themselves into bed with him, the only way it seems they think he will assist their particular cause.
I lost the threads I must confess. However the story needs to be completed to learn the outcome.
Others may enjoy following the twists and turns. I’d have liked a bit more simplicity and much more of the author’s quite excellent historical narrative and descriptive work so well researched. 4/5.