Author Thomas returns to mid-19th century England and brings back the dynamic duo of Barker and Llewelyn, this time going undercover as master bomb makers to infiltrate a terrorist Irish gang determined to blow up London in order to win an Irish homeland. Thomas gives us a sympathetic view of the Irish battle for self-rule, even while clearly deploring the tactics to which certain factions of the Irish home movement resort in their desperation to defeat British domination.
Barker has Llewelyn train in the “stick fighting” favored by Irish rebels, and also to study the rudiments of bomb making under Russian anarchist Johannes van Rhyn, a mercenary who sells his expertise to the highest bidder—in this case, to Llewelyn’s employer Barker to whom he owes a debt. Then the duo goes to Liverpool, a hotbed of rebels inside the belly of the British beast. There, Barker takes on Van Rhyn’s persona and manages to worm his and Llewelyn’s way into a network of Irish terrorists, one of whose leaders has an alluring sister Maire O’Casey. Llewelyn and Maire are deployed by the gang to Paris to buy bomb-making supplies, and Llewelyn falls head over heels with the lovely and multi-faceted Maire.
The terrorists shape a dastardly plot to blow up most of the important government, financial, and law enforcement offices in London, plus bridges and train stations, bombings guaranteed to cause thousands of casualties and, they hope, force the government to yield to their demands. Barker/Van Rhyn and his assistant Llewelyn are initiated into the ring, and required to producedozens of deadly dynamite bombs for distribution throughout London. Their challenge is to have the authorities capture the ring members with their hands on the bombs, while preventing the bombings from taking place. It is a race to the finish to stay out of the hands of Scotland Yard while simultaneously foiling the terrorists.
As always with author Thomas, the story is engaging, the characters are fully-fleshed, the scenes are skillfully set, and the dialogue and action rife with both drama and humor. The one underlying mystery of the novel itself is who the real mover and shaker of the terrorists is: Dunleavy who fought on the Confederate side during the American Civil War and is now a charismatic drunkard with a skill for strategizing, or one of a half-dozen other characters under Barker’s scrutiny. Unfortunately, the final revelation, albeit excitingly presented, was not as dramatic as the author clearly intended—I guessed it long before the denouement.
To Kingdom Come may not be Will Thomas’ best novel to date, but it is a fun read nonetheless.