Angel’s Share reviewed in The Celtic Connection

BOOKKEEPING by Mary McWay Seaman
ANGEL’S SHARE by Clare Austin

This novel, the centerpiece of a trilogy, easily stands alone as an immigration saga, mystery and romantic drama. The title alludes to the measure of Irish whiskey that vanishes after triple-distillation: the “Angel’s Share” is an offering dispersed like incense wafting toward Heaven. There is plenty of other wafting and dispersion playing out in the book as well. Irish immigrant Kerry Sloane, newly arrived in Boston, works as a traditional Irish musician, and a new recording promises some long-sought financial security. Kerry’s old flame from the Falls Road area of Belfast, with whom she shares a hidden tragedy, is a physician who had been embroiled in the Ulster Troubles. Aidan Kennedy had been doing medical charity work in Darfur before he shows up unexpectedly in Boston with dueling goals. He learns that his brother’s killer is in the city and is determined to administer some justice to the criminal; he also wishes to reconnect with Kerry. (In 1985, the brother was gunned down in Belfast after having been involved in hijacking a shipment of cash headed to a Derry bank; the money was never found.)

The innumerable bloodlines and cultural ties that fasten Belfast (and the rest of Ireland) to Boston are expertly embroidered throughout the novel, and Austin skillfully draws differing views of Ulster’s Troubles through Belfast-born Aidan and Galway-born Kerry. Aidan’s father, “a hopeless drunk, lived in a fantasy world of his own making.” Aidan himself “lived by a standard Kerry had only understood from the heroic tales of Ireland’s past. He did what he needed to do to make his family’s life more tolerable. If there was money to be made or justice to be served in his Falls Road neighborhood, legal or not – he made no apologies.” Straight-arrow Kerry is leery of his erratic lifestyle. She is tired of Aidan’s obsession and tells him “I’ve heard it all before. It’s for Finn, it’s for the Republic, it’s for every poor Catholic Irishman who suffered under British rule.” At times, the indignant lass gets enough of everyone’s expectations: “All my life I’ve done what was expected. I’ve been the good daughter, the perfect sister. I’ve carried the prescribed amount of Catholic guilt around with me like a stone chained to my heart.”
Aidan was picked up by Homeland Security when he landed at Logan, and the FBI knows that he is after the mobster Patrick Nolan, who “came and went like noxious fumes from a sewer.” Nolan runs a plumbing business that acts as a front for an extortion racket, and he is ready to sic his goons on anyone standing in his way. The Bureau had been after Nolan for years, and officials were happy for Aidan to act as “a goat to tempt the monster.” FBI agents Jack Tripp and Carolyn Campbell are assigned to the case, and they are delightfully depicted as decent and dedicated defenders (there’s a story here too). Austin meticulously weaves another villain back and forth along the city streets: Jason Mallory, a low cur with explosives experience and connections to the Belfast robbery, is getting to know Boston well. Readers are too!

Kerry also has a perfect suitor in Matthew Kincade – sensible, steady, hardworking, handsome and a good earner. Matthew “hasn’t got an agenda that embraces violence.” Unlike Aidan, “He won’t be running around the world looking to stir up trouble and he hasn’t got people out there trying to kill him.” Jealousies, fumbles, clashes, and chases are dizzily constructed through interlocking relationships and shocking secrets that result in a violent, dramatic dénouement – in church, no less.

The frictions between justice and revenge, love and duty, family and business, security and risk – even adventure and stability – crown Austin’s solid storytelling. High-speed, dialog-driven narrative and snappy repartee probe the power of families to lift up or to deform their members. Although the discipline of poverty has had its enthusiasts from time immemorial, want and worry roar throughout the book as the most sinister monsters among us.

Buy a signed copy of Angle’s Share