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The Killing Frost

Hayden, Thomas

Arrow Books


The Killing Frost

Plot Summary

The novel begins with Captain Alexander Carew travelling to Ireland where he has been assigned to uncover gunmen who are plotting against Britain. Carew reports to Major Calder, who has decided to use a convicted criminal, Myles Burke, who was a member of the IRB, as a way of luring out any current members of this organization. He releases the aged revolutionist from prison after decades of incarceration, who is then left to wander the streets in poverty. Meanwhile, Fintan Butler follows in Burke’s old dreams of an independent Irish Republic, and convinces his friend Gerry Troy to join the IRB with him. Con Gallagher finds Gerry on his travels back to his home of Carewstown. He tells Gerry of how years before Con had to flee as result of an altercation with Father Devlin, a priest who had ruthlessly tried to control the community and when Con resisted, violence resulted, forcing Con to leave or be arrested, and now he is returning to face Father Devlin and his attackers.

Carew begins his investigation by enlisting the help of William Durkin, a journalist, to gather information on the rebel groups, and consequently falls in love with his wife Miriam. He confesses to her about his wife’s suicide and they begin an affair. Carew receives word that a body supposedly identified as Myles Burke was found dead, when in fact he is alive and recovering in the hospital from pneumonia, and is under the council and support of Father Poole. Con encounters a problem when he falls in love with his employer’s daughter Una O’Malley, but he realizes her brother Luke was one of his attackers years ago. To escape an undesired marriage, Una becomes pregnant by Con and the pair are forced to leave Carewstown after a bloody confrontation between Luke and Con. The couple marry and fall into a life of poverty in Dublin, their two infant children dying of disease from the poor conditions. 

In an act of desperation Con mugs Durkin, and is promptly arrested and spends fifteen months in jail.

After discovering the politically active history of Myles Burke, Fintan speaks with him and convinces Burke to become a secret recruiter for IRB members. Upon his release from prison Con joins the Citizen Army and Una returns to Carewstown to have her new child in safety. The insurrection begins during Easter and Durkin is apprehended by Con at the General Post Office which the nationalists had taken over. In Durkin’s absence, Miriam confesses to Carew she is pregnant, and he returns to Dublin to find the city in the middle of a battle. Con is injured as the British gain advantage, and Burke shoots and kills Carew despite the man’s efforts to help his wounded enemy. Burke is then gunned down by another British officer.

After the Easter Rising, Alexander’s former home Carewscourt is burnt to the ground, and Con returns to his wife in Carewstown. Una happily informs Father Devlin that his planned marriage for her and related land deal he had discussed with her father would not be going ahead, to the priest’s chagrin. Upon spotting Fintan Butler in a bar, Durkin jests with the former revolutionist that he would like to print a humiliating story about the man in his newspaper. Fintan responds with unquestionable proof that Durkin’s wife and best friend Carew, were indeed having an affair. Durkin returns home and hangs himself. In the final scene Father Poole has another chance to save a soul, which he feels he did not achieve with Myles Burke. He convinces a young member of the Citizen Army to return home to his family, and remove himself from the path of violence and bloodshed. Father Poole feels satisfied that he has spared at least one person from eternal damnation and gave him the hope for redemption.

Main Characters

  • Alexander Carew

  • Con Gallagher

  • William Durkin

  • Myles Burke

Significant Minor Characters

  • Miriam Durkin

  • Una O’Malley

  • Father Poole

  • Fintan Butler

  • Gerry Troy

Publication History

The novel was first published in 1991 by Random Century in London, and reprinted in 1992 by Arrow Books, also in London. Novel is currently out of print.

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