The Abstainer: Gripping tale of violence, betrayal and vice

Book review: Ian McGuire, author of the Booker-longlisted The North Water, has written a compelling and tender story set in 1867

The Abstainer is set in the months following the infamous hanging of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ in 1867

The Abstainer is set in the months following the infamous hanging of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ in 1867

Following on the footsteps of his widely-acclaimed second novel, 2016’s Booker-longlisted The North Water, Ian McGuire has pulled off another gripping tale of violence, betrayal and vice. The Abstainer is set in the months following the infamous hanging of the “Manchester Martyrs” in 1867, condemned for killing a police officer in a successful effort to liberate two leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Our protagonist, Head Constable James O’Connor, a widower and recovering alcoholic, has been transferred from Dublin to make a fresh start and to cultivate contacts in Manchester’s Irish community, who in the late 19th century made up a 10th of the city’s population. But the careful balance of information and power between the police and “the Fenians” is upset by the arrival of Stephen Doyle, a veteran of the American civil war sent from Philadelphia to avenge the martyrs’ deaths.

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