Christmas, 1864, in the last years of the civil war, a twenty-year-old Irish Canadian, Eoin O'Donoghue, is newly hired as the personal secretary to the prospective head of the embryonic Irish Republican Army in New York, William R. Roberts. Appalled that the mayhem he sees around him is also being planned for his own country, Eoin offers his services to Gilbert McMicken, head of Canada's secret police. So begins the trajectory of what Eoin himself calls, self-disparagingly, his 'Judas informantcy.'
Against a backdrop of fusion and collapse, 600,000 Americans dead, one nation, Canada, about to be created, another to its south in disarray, Irish militants plan northward raids to win a 'New Ireland' on the continent (its capital, Sherbrooke, QC), to split Ireland itself off from Great Britain, and to avenge reverse, cross-border Southern terror hatched in Montreal and approved by Jefferson Davis - murder and bank robberies in St. Albans, Vermont, a form of germ warfare (yellow fever spread by trunks of black vomit encrusted clothing), Confederate Robert Kennedy's almost successful plan to fire-bomb New York City, and the shooting of Abraham Lincoln.
Under assumed names, safely housed in the Moffat Mansion on Union Square (with a sunburst flag on the roof, lavishly furnished in mahogany and green, center of the Irish Republic in exile), live the secret, illegitimate twin daughters of James Stephens, Fenian leader in Europe. Who will capture Eoin O'Donoghue's allegiance - his employer, radical New York businessman and Fenian William R. Roberts (later US ambassador to Chile), Deirdre Hopper (Stephens), accomplished painter and musician and daughter of the leader in Dublin, or Canadian spy-master Gilbert McMicken, who regularly insists his protégé provide 'less poetry and more police work.'
Two spirits also stalk the book, one Edmund Spencer, author of the Faerie Queene and the Sheriff of Cork, who celebrated the flowers of Ireland and contemplated mass starvation of the Irish as an instrument of Elizabethan power. The other is Thomas D'Arcy McGee, Irish revolutionary, poet, journalist, Father of Confederation, the only federal politician in Canada ever to have been assassinated (by Fenian separatists in 1868), almost three years to the day after Lincoln's death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.
Art or authority, union or secession, integrity or 'informantcy', rapine and war or love and the peaceable kingdom - Eoin O'Donoghue, reluctant patriot and spy, is torn by these choices.
Keith Henderson has published three previous novels, (The Restoration, DC Books, 1994, The Beekeeper, DC Books, 1990, The Roof Walkers, DC Books 2013), a collection of political essays from when he was Quebec columnist for the Financial Post (Staying Canadian, DC Books, 1997), and a prize—winning book of short stories (The Pagan Nuptials of Julia, DC Books, 2006). He led a small provincial political party in Quebec during the separatist referendum of 1995 and championed English language rights and the "poison pill" strategy of partitioning Quebec if ever Quebec partitioned Canada, positions covered in full length articles in the Los Angeles and New York Times as well as on CBS 60 Minutes.