Thomas Fleming, . . Forge, $25.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0644-9

Bess Fitzmaurice, the idealistic heroine of Fleming's historical melodrama, suffers no reticence in recounting her many sexual liaisons ("He took my hand and put his swelling manhood in it"). More seriously, through Bess's gushing first-person narrative, Fleming (When This Cruel War Is Over ) portrays the Irish in post–Civil War America without the usual romantic claptrap. In 1865, Bess flees Ireland for the New World with her brother and her Irish-American lover, Dan McCaffrey, an unscrupulous rogue somewhat in the Rhett Butler mold. Bess discovers that the cynical Irish she meets in New York City, the lying congressmen in Washington, D.C., and the murderous KKK in the defeated South are all interested only in money. Fleming excels at depicting the underside of New York. The festering downtown slums, packed with poor Irish immigrants, horrify Bess, as do the gambling parlors and brothels uptown, all feeding incestuously on crooked Irish politicians and their cronies. Bess eventually allies herself with the Fenian Brotherhood, helping to raise money for an invasion of Civil War Irish veterans into Canada that ends in a predictable fiasco. Bess is as resourceful as Scarlett O'Hara, but the Southern portion of this windy tale is unlikely to win over many fans of Margaret Mitchell's classic. (Mar. 1)