Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Winter Guest by W.C. Ryan #ReadingIreland2023

Title: The Winter Guest
Author: W.C. Ryan
Publication: Arcade Publishing, hardcover, 2022
Genre: Historical Mystery
Setting: Ireland, 1921
Description: After an ordinary evening of cards and conversation, Maud Prendeville, Lord Kilcolgan’s daughter, and two companions are killed in an IRA ambush, yards from her home in the Irish countryside. However, Maud was well-liked by most of the rebellious locals because she had defied her birth to assist the struggle for independence in the Easter Rising and they deny responsibility for her death. Captain Tom Harkin, secretly an IRA agent and Maud’s fiancĂ© before the war, still grieving at the news of her death and haunted by his wartime service, is sent from Dublin to investigate under the pretense of being an insurance claims adjuster. Balancing the awkwardness of staying at Kilcolgan House with the need to delve into a variety of secrets, Tom learns more than he bargained for and finds himself in acute danger.
My Impression: This atmospheric and melancholy historical novel plunges the reader into the enmity between the Irish and the British landowners. Tom Harkin may have survived the Great War but he suffers from PTSD and flashbacks and, as the story begins, has to avoid British soldiers in order to walk safely to a pub in Dublin for an IRA rendezvous. His contact is arrested and might have given up Tom’s identity so it is not a bad time to leave the city for Maud’s funeral and some investigative work. Maud’s brother Billy, who went to university with Tom, and sister Charlotte welcome him to Kilcolgan, as do her father, Lord Kilcolgan, and her uncle, Sir John Prendeville, as he arrives just in time for Maud’s funeral:
The guests themselves are in good spirits, despite the occasion, and the candlelight is forgiving. Up close, it is possible to see that their dress is often from ten or twenty years earlier – a little worn and in need of alteration, the white waistcoats no longer as pristine as they might once have been. It is also curious how old the guests are, with only a handful of younger women and no young men at all except for Vane, Billy and himself.
There are secrets in the house and in the village – not merely the mystery of who killed Maud and what changed a brilliant young woman so much that she joined the Irish republicans rebelling against British rule in Ireland while Tom and her brothers were fighting in France, and later broke her engagement to Tom without explanation. Most of the locals are reluctant to talk to Tom and some of those who do wind up dead. As Tom doggedly continues his investigation, despite warnings to return to Dublin, he begins to be afraid of what he will discover but he is determined to bring Maud’s killer to justice.
This is a beautifully written story with a dark mystery and civil war as its backdrop. The author captures the divided loyalties and the sense of doom that pervades the conflict and daily life. Not to mention, Tom is a complex character who experienced enough trauma on the battlefield but cannot avoid more in the post-war Ireland of the 1920s. I would have liked to better understand why Maud broke their engagement but the implication was that she was changed after being involved in the Easter Uprising and had moved on from him and her pre-war life. I have come across several books set during the Irish Troubles recently; it is an interesting but violent historical period that some may try to romanticize but there appear to be no heroes.
Source: Library. This review is for Reading Ireland 2023 hosted by Cathy at 746 Books, for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge at The Intrepid Reader, and for the Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge at Carol’s Notebook.


Cathy746books said...

I read this a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it too. Thanks for taking part!

JaneGS said...

This actually sounds really good. I've added to my Library request list. I know a bit about this time period but definitely want to learn more, and historical fiction is my preferred vehicle mostly. Thanks for a compelling review.

TracyK said...

I haven't read anything by this author and this seems like a good place to start. I would like to read more historical fiction set in Ireland. Great review.

I hope I can find at least one book to read for Reading Ireland this month.

Carla Loves to Read said...

Wonderful review. I just found the audiobook and ebook at my library so will do a read/listen. I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries, so this sounds perfect.