Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook
Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: murder, revenge, Irish-English tensions of the nineteenth century, child abuse
One of the reasons that I am so drawn to Ian McGuire’s work is that the writer absolutely does not flinch away from the nasty parts of historical accuracy that permeate both the time period and his characters’ backstories.
In this latest work, we go between Manchester, England and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as generational trauma and crime in the name of a greater cause chase our two main characters, Stephen Doyle and James O’Connor, respectively.
McGuire has a knack for specificity that immerses the reader in the time period. Facts of relative history are peppered in here and there, with enough detail to make the time period abundantly clear. It’s vivid, and it’s brutal, especially as O’Connor becomes more entrenched in the Irish resistance even though he seeks a more sober lifestyle as constable. I found myself invested in all the three point of view characters, as unsavory as two-thirds of them were.
What works so well for me is that in both The North Water and The Abstainer, specific types of violence and murder are inevitable. There’s never a question of if, but more so when, and so much tension radiates from that space. McGuire intricately lays out Doyle’s backstory, having been a runaway followed by a soldier in the Civil War. The man is violent and not too many steps from bloody revenge, much to James O’Connor’s detriment. The facts serves to justify the decisions and actions of these characters in the present day. Rather, it simply serves as context and an excellent plot driver.
These books definitely aren’t for everyone, but if historical noir is your thing, definitely give these a read.