WHISH’T DADDY opens in a tiny cottage next to New York’s famous Saratoga Race Course. The narrator is packing up the few possessions of his grandfather, Michael Walsh, who lived there for 87 years amid smells of “hay and barn and horses.”
The grandson discovers an unexpected cache of dramatic family history — a diary, letters, newspaper articles in English and Gaelic, and racing medals — about the Walsh family. The heart of the story concerns 15-year-old Mick (Michael), his remarkable horse Whish’t Daddy, and their struggle to race in 1920 during the onset of Ireland’s revolution.
The novel is, in part, a window on Irish history from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. To give context to the troubles facing the Walshes, the story explains laws (from that time) restricting the Irish from owning anything except tiny subsistence farms. However, Mick’s father, Frank, has a secret benefactor who has helped him accumulate sizeable land holdings and stables under the pretense that non-Irish investors own the business. It’s a dangerous arrangement.
“Whish’t” means “hush.” Mick’s horse gains his name when Frank’s excitement about the colt’s birth causes his children to repeatedly saying, “Whish’t, Daddy.” The horse is similarly high strung except with Mick, who bonds with baby Whish’t Daddy by sleeping next to him and, in time, is the only one who can calm and train him. If you love animal stories, this one is difficult to put down.
Unfortunately, the novel contains numerous usage errors such as:
- Typos (“bought” for “brought,” “countries” instead of “counties,” “here” in place of “hear,” and “your” instead of “you’re”)
- Wrong word choices (“razing” for “raising,” “gruff” for “guff,” and “rains” for “reins”)
- Multiple misspellings of the same word (“goal” instead of “gaol,” which is Gaelic for “jail”), and
- Redundant or nonsensical phrasing (“a vast plethora of,” “a tall waif of a man,” and “the scent of fury cloying to him”).
So, it’s no surprise when Mick’s sister, Maureen, has auburn hair in one chapter and blonde in another.
James McCormack is a fine storyteller who creates a strong sense of place and memorable characters, including villains one loves to hate. But it’s difficult to ignore his novel’s poor copyediting.
WHISH’T DADDY, a powerful story about an Irish horse-racing family threatened by a greedy aristocracy and rebellion should gallop, but awkward writing errors break its pace far too often.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader