The acclaimed author of The North Water returns with a tale set in 19th century England, where Irish police officer James O'Connor must take sides when his nephew joins a violent underground movement for Ireland's independence. He cannot foresee how his fate will become intertwined with Stephen Doyle, an Irish-American veteran of the Civil War, who arrives in Manchester from New York with a thirst for blood.
It’s great fun ... It swerves from comedy to the darker stuff with ease and elegance. It is far from a funny book, but Dickens is there in the language, the coincidences, the unrolling of the story. The grandiosity and ineptitude of the cops and of the Fenians reminded me of Conrad’s The Secret Agent ... The dialogue throughout the novel is terrific; it seems like the genuine article whether it comes from an Irish, English or American mouth. McGuire is overfond of similes; there are far too many 'likes' in the novel. But often they are great ... there was very little I didn’t like and admire about The Abstainer. The conclusion seems inevitable, somehow even more so when it turned out not to be the one I’d been anticipating ... This is Dickens in the present tense, Dickens for the 21st century.
... moments of bliss and beauty are rare, but this is no real gripe since McGuire is so comfortable writing about the nightmarish and repellent. The city’s assault on the senses is particularly well done ... His uses of simile are judicious, the best left for gruesome sounds ... The book’s conclusion is cleverly understated, leading us away from the penultimate act, a final spectacle of gore ... McGuire is always a pleasure—and horror—to read, and The Abstainer is without question a very fine book in and of itself: darkly compelling, with its polished prose and snappy dialogue. And yet, read after its predecessor, it strikes one—despite the dread and fog and blood—as safe, as if its author has too readily returned to a winning formula.
... a page-turning tale ... a gritty and moody story ... The Abstainer succeeds in keeping the reader tense and uneasy, much like the polluted, portentous air hanging over Manchester. The brooding and lyrically written cat-and-mouse narrative of Doyle and O’Connor is excellent; however, one feels a lost opportunity for a more complex historical novel populated with deeper back stories. But if the reader is looking for a taut tale exploring the brutal vagaries of men’s hearts, The Abstainer is a provocative novel that invites further discovery of a troubled time.