The Winter Guest by W. C. Ryan – Review – First Monday Crime.

About The Book

The drive leads past the gate house and through the trees towards the big house, visible through the winter-bared branches. Its windows stare down at Harkin and the sea beyond . . .

January 1921. Though the Great War is over, in Ireland a new, civil war is raging. The once-grand Kilcolgan House, a crumbling bastion shrouded in sea-mist, lies half empty and filled with ghosts – both real and imagined – the Prendevilles, the noble family within, co-existing only as the balance of their secrets is kept.

Then, when an IRA ambush goes terribly wrong, Maud Prendeville, eldest daughter of Lord Kilcolgan, is killed, leaving the family reeling. Yet the IRA column insist they left her alive, that someone else must have been responsible for her terrible fate. Captain Tom Harkin, an IRA intelligence officer and Maud’s former fiancé, is sent to investigate, becoming an unwelcome guest in this strange, gloomy household.

Working undercover, Harkin must delve into the house’s secrets – and discover where, in this fractured, embattled town, each family member’s allegiances truly lie. But Harkin too is haunted by the ghosts of the past and by his terrible experiences on the battlefields. Can he find out the truth about Maud’s death before the past – and his strange, unnerving surroundings – overwhelm him?

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I read a book by William Ryan a few years ago called The Constant Soldier and recommended it to everybody I know. I’m sure that I will be just as eager to do the same with this new book. 

In some ways it is completely different, it takes place in Ireland a few years after the end of WW1 and more importantly for this novel after the Easter Rising. The troubles in Ireland form a huge part of this storyline, the effect on the local smaller communities, the British ex military who are drafted in to quash any uprising and the methods in which they do so. I felt that these men didn’t give any thought to why people either wanted independence or not. They were just doing the same as what they did during the war, killing. To  my shame, I know little about this period in time and did have to dig deeper at times. 

I thought the similarities with The Constant Soldier were the descriptions of war and the effect it had on the soldiers. It was evident throughout how Harkin struggled with his experience. Most of the ghosts he saw were soldiers who he had known. These were at times harrowing to read despite the brevity and they increased my liking of him, I felt they showed his honesty and in some ways increased his determination to get the answers about Maud’s death. She was another whose ghost he saw, proving to me that his ghosts were people who had an impact on him at some time in his life. 

It could have been a depressing novel, a fractured country struggling with poverty and politics but there were characters who made me smile. Mrs Driscoll, Moira and Bourke especially. 

I found this novel fascinating for so many reasons but mainly for opening my eyes to a troubled time.

William Ryan will be participating in February’s First Monday Crime alongside Sam Blake, Liz Nugent and Jane Casey. You can watch via the Facebook page at 7.30pm on Monday 7th Feb.

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