I recently finished Burke in Ireland by Tom Williams, the latest addition to his series about James Burke, a Napoleonic secret agent.
In the Ireland of 1793, Wolf Tone and the United Irishmen seem to be advocating for peaceful means to extend the franchise and improve the lot of the Irish, but there are rumours that some of them favour a more violent approach. Enter James Burke, an English spy, with orders to infiltrate the United Irishmen and discover the extent of their plans.
While I’m a big fan of Tom Williams’ books, I don’t always read his Burke series because I find it hard to read novels set squarely in the period I’m currently writing about. This book is set far enough outside of that period for me, and I was interested in the Wolf Tone rebellion as it forms the background for one of my major characters.
I’m glad I gave it a try because it’s very good. The author manages the characterisation very well, drawing a believable portrait of the young James Burke, struggling at this point in his career between resentment at being used as a spy, and fascination with the nature of the work. The subsidiary characters are well-portrayed.
Late eighteenth century Dublin comes to life on the pages of this book, with its sharp contrasts between rich and poor. The author is particularly good at weaving the web of intrigue and there is a sense of growing menace as Burke is unwillingly sucked in to a murky underworld of political dissidents, rebellion, and the threat of a French invasion. The pace is good and the author manages to maintain a good balance between British and Irish perspectives. Above all, he keeps the story firmly rooted within the period and doesn’t fall into the trap of allowing later history to influence his treatment of the topic.
This is a well-plotted, well-researched novel and I highly recommend it.