Book Review

The Winter Guest by W C Ryan

December 8, 2021

Reviewer: Philipa Coughlan

Publisher: Bonnier Books UK, imprint of Zaffre      6th January 2022 

ISBN   978-1-8387-7150-8     HB

A hint of ghostly images, with a White Lady whose perfume of decaying flowers follows our main narrator Tom Harkin back to Kilcolgan House in Ireland, in the first years after WWI where he served and now suffers with shellshock/nightmares of mud and death from the trenches . Alongside others from the Estate, friend Billy and Sean Tom now return to investigate the ambush that seems to have been undertaken by the IRA but which ended also in the death of Maud Prendeville, both a daughter of the family that owns Kilcolgan House, but also a past love of Tom before the war.

In Ireland a new civil war is raging and Maud had been a rebel involved with the Easter Rising of 1916. So why had she been killed by fellow rebels? The IRA column denies their involvement and the whole village is embroiled in the factions between the ruling British army/police – the RIC Auxies – and those volunteering or acting as informants for either side.

Tom himself is an IRA intelligence officer but arrives in disguise as an insurance man investigating the death of Maud. His past connections with the family may prove more dangerous as he delves further into the house and its occupants, when secrets become revealed and relationships uncovered which threaten his past friends and loves.

I liked Moira Wilson, the guest house owner ‘with her house of memsaabs’ and her past affection for Tom, and the servants of the local houses like Mrs Driscoll and Bridget who often continue to be subservient yet implicated in the growing political factions that become violent with desperate fallout of grief.

I would have liked more description of the scenery in which the village was located but was immersed into the many characters. As a personal read I found it interesting and once again revealing about British rule and cruelty against the Irish citizens at a time when they had sacrificed their own lives in the war. The gun running from America and the use of informants was well portrayed as both sides grew in suspicion of each other’s actions.  Book groups may need to have some insight into Irish history for parts of the story but overall it is a tense, often sad yet affirming tale of justice.  I look forward to further novels by the author who does have a liking for introducing ghostly images into his narratives, which add a spookiness and supernatural feel to tales of human fragility.