The Winter Guest by W C Ryan. Book Review. Historical mystery. Highly recommended.

The drive leads past the gate house and through the trees towards the big house, visible through the winter-bared branches. Its windows stare down at Harkin and the sea beyond . . .

January 1921. Though the Great War is over, in Ireland a new, civil war is raging. The once-grand Kilcolgan House, a crumbling bastion shrouded in sea-mist, lies half empty and filled with ghosts – both real and imagined – the Prendevilles, the noble family within, co-existing only as the balance of their secrets is kept.

Then, when an IRA ambush goes terribly wrong, Maud Prendeville, eldest daughter of Lord Kilcolgan, is killed, leaving the family reeling. Yet the IRA column insist they left her alive, that someone else must have been responsible for her terrible fate. Captain Tom Harkin, an IRA intelligence officer and Maud’s former fiancé, is sent to investigate, becoming an unwelcome guest in this strange, gloomy household.

Working undercover, Harkin must delve into the house’s secrets – and discover where, in this fractured, embattled town, each family member’s allegiances truly lie. But Harkin too is haunted by the ghosts of the past and by his terrible experiences on the battlefields. Can he find out the truth about Maud’s death before the past – and his strange, unnerving surroundings – overwhelm him?

A haunting, atmospheric mystery set against the raw Irish landscape in a country divided, The Winter Guest is the perfect chilling read.

The Winter Guest is my first W C Ryan book, but it won’t be my last.

The Winter Guest is a little awkward to get into. The first chapter could perhaps be better placed elsewhere or left out altogether, but once past that point, and as the reader meets Harkin, we’re quickly drawn into his world. A man suffering from PTSD following the Great War and involving himself in the IRA, is a man on the edge, inhabiting a world filled with suspicion and shadows, where things that seem real, are simply not.

He is a sympathetic character and the reader feels. a great deal of empathy for him. 

The landscape he walks into is one bedevilled by atmospheric weather conditions – there is a great deal of attention spent on creating the image of a house on the cusp of ruin, a family in the midst of ruin and the weather conditions prevalent at the coastline. On occasion, it feels a little too much but the lack of electricity, the reliance on candles, ensures that the slightly other-worldly elements can never be forgotten. The flashback descriptions of life in the trenches of the Great War haunt the reader as well as Harkin,

You may have noticed that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I would put it on a par with last year’s The Glass Woman and The Quickening. A haunting story not to be missed. My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy