The Angel’s Share

Written by James Markert
Review by Kathryn Voigt

Who would imagine that in 1934 an Old Sam Bourbon distillery, at the root of the conflict in The Angels’ Share, might be the very cornerstone on which to fashion a new foundation? Filled with gangsters, murder, intrigue and an ever-present air of single malt, James Markert’s novel delivers a rich history of brewing and a tangentially melancholy tale. William McFee, a budding writer and aspiring Master Distiller, recounts his coming of age and his father Barley McFee’s unwitting quest for redemption in this wistful piece of historical fiction.

William, the oldest of the McFee children, is an awkward teen whose quiet loyalty and sense of honor in the face of his father’s angst and brutality earn him the trust of the reader. There is an endearing sweetness to William’s devotion to a family torn apart by his baby brother’s death and his need for independence. William courts the fiery Polly, a drifter and disciple to the now-dead Asher, an impossible Christ-like figure whose grave resides on the McFee property and brings with it miracles and hope. Even Barley, a grief-stricken drunk, beset by the ghosts of an unnamed past, finds himself resurrected. As head of his house, he leads with an iron fist but also an unexpected cunning that woos his family’s respect and restores honor, integrity, and love to what appears to be a family broken and dead in its transgressions. Together, William and Barley traverse the bond between father and son; somewhere between fear and strength, wisdom and mockery, shrewd intellect and wicked love, they forge a new patriarchy that speaks of an old archetype born of manhood and steeped in grit. A definite must read.