Emilie Richards,
Whiskey Island
(Mira, 2000)

The Whiskey Island Saloon is a popular watering hole in Cleveland, Ohio. Megan Donaghue, a fifth-generation Irish-American, has been running the restaurant/saloon alone, but is soon joined by her prodigal sisters, Casey and Peggy.

Casey returns to Whiskey Island after a tragedy in Chicago, where she was a social worker. She has 4-year-old Ashley, about whom she says very little, in tow. Peggy, the youngest, was raised by her sisters and aunt after her mother died and her father mysteriously disappeared. Her reluctant arrival home is also quite a surprise.

On their first night home, they are carjacked in the saloon parking lot, but the assault is interrupted by passerby Niccolo Andreani. His injuries from the fight are treated by Megan; he is immediately drawn to the capable woman who runs the saloon and it appears that the feeling is mutual. But will Megan feel the same way when she learns Niccolo had been a priest?

Meanwhile, Casey's childhood playmate Jon Kovats, now a sexy young prosecutor, comes and goes in the most mysterious ways. Jon has waited for years for Casey to return but Casey isn't so sure if she wants a relationship of any kind -- until she sees how caring he is with young Ashley, helping get her out of her shell. Her heart just melts, as with this exchange:

He lifted the doll whose dress he'd fingered and held it out to the little girl. "Would you like to play with her, Ashley? I think she gets lonely sitting on the shelf."
Ashley frowned but she broke her silence. "She has friends."
Jon nodded solemnly, "It's a well-known fact that dolls get tired of each other's company. They need people to hold them and play with them."
"Jon, that's a very valuable doll," Casey warned.
"Not half as valuable as a little girl."

But the story of the three Donaghue sisters isn't the only story in Whiskey Island, which is set on a peninsula at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. Named for the distillery built there in 1836, it also has been a dump, Coast Guard station, naval graveyard and predominantly Irish immigrant shantytown. Richards also tells the story of Terry and Lena Tierney, Irish immigrants who are struggling to make a living in the 1880s while saving money to bring their families to America. When Terry is tragically injured, Lena needs to make more money than she does feeding the terriers at the docks. When offered a position in one of the finest homes in Cleveland, she believes it to be an answer to her prayers -- but it seems owner James Simeon, one of the wealthiest men in the city, has more nefarious reasons for hiring the beautiful young Irish woman.

Richards tells the modern and historical stories with the same finesse. Just as I would get caught up in the historical story Richards would take me back to the present day, and vice versa. But, deeply caught up in both stories as I was, it didn't take more than a paragraph or two for me to adjust.

Suspense, mystery, history, romance -- this book has it all. The historical portion of the book is interspersed with journal entries from Father Patrick McSweeney, whose parish includes Whiskey Island and whose journal is being transcribed by Niccolo. How the two stories connect and how Father McSweeney becomes a truly instrumental character in the story isn't revealed until the very end. (No peeking!) How the two stories meld together will have even the most discriminating reader glued to the page.

Not only does the book have plenty of action to keep the reader riveted, the rich characterization that Richards is famous for keeps readers involved; readers will feel as if they actually know the Donaghue sisters and will want to visit Whiskey Island Saloon for themselves for a taste of Rosaleen's Irish Stew and a pint of Guinness. Fortunately, that stew recipe (along with the recipe for Megan's soda bread) can be found on Emilie Richard's website.

- Rambles
written by Kyra Quinn
published 28 June 2003

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