The Garden of Martyrs

Written by Michael C. White
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Though based on true events, not much happens in Michael White’s novel, a vibrant and deeply-felt tale of miscarried justice and anti-Irish sentiment in early 19th century Boston.

Two immigrant laborers, Dominic Daley and James Halligan, are traveling in search of work when they are stopped, arrested, and accused of the murder of a local Yankee. The case seems solid. Witnesses put them near the crime scene, and in their pockets are bank notes drawn upon the same institutions as those frequented by the victim. The crime serves as a flash point for anti-Catholic sentiment, thrusting the local priest, Father Cheverus, into a moral dilemma. Should he speak up for the men, and risk mob violence, or should he stay silent for the sake of peace?

The answer is not simple, for Father Cheverus, a survivor of the French Terror, has good reason to doubt his courage and faith. The priest’s uncertainty is put to shame by Daley’s unwavering convictions and stoic courage in the face of injustice. Moreover, the other prisoner – Halligan – is an unbelieving rover who desperately needs what only a priest can give: the comfort of absolution. The end is inevitable, but Michael White’s portrayals of characters caught in fierce moral dilemmas provide the narrative drive necessary to make the pages turn.