WANDERING through documentary evidence, Joseph O'Connor follows the afterlife of Fenian hero O'Keeffe of the Sword, who led thousands of Irish emigrants to their deaths in the abattoir of the American Civil War.
His fictional O'Keeffe, an amalgam of the real Thomas Francis Meagher, John Boyle O'Reilly and others, is now married to a millionaire and governor of a new territory on the frontier.
Impressive and loquacious, O'Keeffe has two faults: difficulty keeping it in his pants, and inability to speak to his wife without sniping.
Oh, and the drink. And the governorship is a punishment. And the territory is ungovernable, filthy, populated by half-mad war survivors.
Underrunning this is an unspoken scandal - perhaps based on Boyle O'Reilly's notorious attempt to seduce his patron's child in Australia.
Amid all the ruined people are two more ruined. One is a teenage prostitute walking barefoot across the country. The other is her brother, a traumatised child soldier surely modelled on 'Johnny Shiloh'.
At times the story takes light - there's a letter from a 15-year-old soldier ("...only don't let on I said I was afraid..." he pleads to his mother) forwarded posthumously to his parents, then to O'Keeffe with "God forgive you" scrawled across it.
O'Connor has written a powerful book, but a sprawling one. Not a restful read, but an irresistible one.