(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“Byron claims he has proof the Cubs and the Red Sox fixed the World Series…But he could never publish it because the censors would say it hurt morale—that it would be injurious to the war effort.” —September 24, 1918
Byron Townsend started as a sports reporter at his father’s newspaper, The Boston Examiner. Covering the talented but eccentric Babe Ruth wasn’t enough for him, so he traveled overseas to cover the front lines of the war in Europe, even before U.S. involvement.
Unfortunately, that was not all that would be censored. Byron wanted to report on a deadly epidemic that was engulfing the military camps in Europe, killing more soldiers than the war was. This eventually spread along the Eastern Seaboard as the soldiers returned to the United States. This outbreak indiscriminately killed civilians, especially children. If information got out, it could add to the anti-war sentiment. Therefore it was promptly squelched.
Byron’s sister, Margaret, was promoting the development of a more advanced form of communication, the radio. This would also not be exempt from government censorship. As an anti-war activist, she campaigned for Woodrow Wilson who maintained a non-intervention policy in Europe..at least for a while.
Most of this novel, however, centers around William Morrison, Margaret’s husband. As the vice president of Columbia Trust Bank , he worked for Joe Finnerty , the youngest bank president in Boston at only 28 years of age. Despised by Margaret and her family, Finnerty was involved in stock fraud, bootlegging , gambling and whatever profitable illegal commerce you can think of.
Glenfiddich Inn takes the reader through the major events preceding WWI in the story of this family; and its members appear to have been involved in all aspects of it: the Women’s suffrage movement, passengers on the ocean-liner Lusitania that was attacked by a German submarine, the search for Pancho Villa, and so much more.
We also learn about the figures of the time that would go down in history, like Pierre du Pont, George Kreel, and Lee de Forest.
Unfortunately the novel’s fictional characters aren’t particularly interesting or dynamic. I found myself getting a little bored with them, but I’m glad that I stuck it out as the plot had an unexpected twist. As a fan of American cultural history, I was engrossed in the story , as it recounted the mood of our country at that time, such as the mistrust between Irish Americans and those of English descent . That contributed to the anti-war sentiment, but was no match against those forces who saw the advantage of war. Whether WWI was a just war, is not the point. The fact is that many powerful people supported the war for their own gain.
What continues to haunt me from Glenfiddich Inn is the reminder of how corporate and government propaganda continues to controls us, and that dissension is often equated with being unpatriotic . Most of all I am reminded of the danger of allowing corporations to profit from war. When will we wake up and learn from our history?