Foxhunt by Luke Francis Beirne

Calling to mind the deft writing and the time period of Michelle Butler-Hallett’s Constant Nobody, Luke Francis Beirne’s Foxhunt is also set in the 1950s era of communism taking hold — or the fear of it taking hold — in post-war Europe. Mild and unassuming Canadian Milne Lowell is drawn into international intrigue in this slow-to-medium-paced literary novel primarily set in London.

The initial upbeat, congenial mood of Foxhunt is set right from the start, as Beirne introduces the reader, via Milne, to the other characters at a conference set in post-war Paris. Milne is reunited with his old friend Eric Felmor and is immediately attracted to his wife Ava, not so much physically, but as a kindred spirit. We also meet the famed British poet Carson Ward. There are also some behind-the-scenes actors in this drama, including Nicholas Babichev, a Russian composer and anti-communist and his friend Clifford Bernstein an ill-defined, shadowy-type character.

Milne is taken on as part of an editorial board for a new magazine that is to champion freedom and warn against the threat of communism. It is not aimed at the masses but written for the intelligentsia, who they view as the prime target audience for their initiative. This would involve a move to London, and enthused by the idea, but realizing he is very much alone, Milne decides to approach his friend Marguerite to see if she would come over as well, as a contributor to the new magazine.

There is a fair bit of subterfuge and drama bubbling beneath the surface as pro-communists are actively trying to discredit the efforts of those who would speak against it. There are office break-ins, people following them, and even a foxhunt that is eerily foreshadowing what is to come. Milne and Marguerite, the outsiders of the group, are being watched, from without and within. Even Milne and Marguerite’s sexual preferences are questioned.

Carson and Milne make a trip to Columbia that turns out badly with them being thrown in jail. Clifford calls in some favours to get them rescued and flown out of the country. There is also strife within the editing board as the executive committee (Nicholas and Clifford) want to make Witness more of a “cultural” periodical rater than a literary one, which Milne assumed it was to be. It is leaning toward the political side, and Milne and the others don’t like it.

The character of Milne is one the reader can sympathize with. He is alone, in a strange place (Europe) never having served in the war, which is a point of contention with his friends back in Montreal (“It was, at times, an immense source of guilt”). He is excited about the magazine (titled “Witness“) and the role that he has been asked to play in it. He sees living in London as a source of material for his next novel. His idealism and enthusiasm (some would easily say naivety) are understandable. These attributes of Milne are played against the world-weary Eric and the others who have lived through (or served in) the war and therefore have a totally different view of it as well as the communistic threat. Margeurite, on the other hand, is not fooled and tries to get Milne to see what he either cannot see or doesn’t want to see.

Foxhunt is wonderfully written and, as already mentioned, is a slow-to-medium-paced read. Hence, it is the type of novel I enjoy reading. Foxhunt is also a very cerebral and well-placed story within the historical context of the beginnings of the Cold War. I highly recommend Foxhunt as a noir-ish literary mystery-intrigue novel, but it requires a patient reader to fully appreciate Beirne’s pacing and storytelling. In fact, I read it twice!

Luke Francis Beirne was born in 1995 in Ireland and grew up in Western Canada. He has ghostwritten more than a dozen genre novels. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Honest UlstermanHamilton Arts & Letters and Adelaide, including the award-winning story “Models.” He holds a Master’s in Cultural Studies & Critical Theory from McMaster University, where he worked as a TA for the English Department. Foxhunt is his first novel. He lives in Saint John, New Brunswick.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ BARAKA (April 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771862718
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771862714

James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.