My initial attraction to this book was, in a somewhat self-centered way, the fact that the New York World's Fair was held in 1939, the year I came into the world. Since I couldn't be at the former, guess which is most important to me.
“The World of Tomorrow,” is a good old Irish tale, the story of the three Dempsey Brothers: the oldest, Martin, a struggling musician in New York City; the middle child, Michael; and the youngest, Francis Xavier. Both Michael and Francis are struggling with their own problems in Ireland.
Michael is a young man ensconced in a Catholic seminary that he joined for lack of any other work in his village. Francis is in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin because of "trafficking in banned books," as well as other more salacious items.
Their father dies, and Francis is granted a brief parole to attend the funeral. There, as he and Michael are praying over the grave, someone stealthily gives them a map that Francis recognizes as being related to his underground activities in the IRA, an uprising against England. The two decide to seize this rare opportunity to escape, steal a car and find the "safe house" to which the map leads them. It turns out not to be an ordinary house, instead it’s a bomb factory for the IRA.
Somehow, a bomb explodes in the house while Francis is outside and the unfortunate Michael is still in the house. Francis finds him clinging to life in the smoking rubble, and next to him is a strongbox, its lid smashed, revealing a huge amount of cash – no doubt also meant for the IRA. Francis realizes that the prison and the IRA will both be chasing him if he steals the money, but the attraction is overwhelming.
What follows is an escape to America aboard the British ocean liner Britannia on which Francis has booked, naturally, a room in first class. There is one major problem: Michael's hearing was completely destroyed in the blast and his brain addled. Francis tries to make him comfortable in their room as he mingles with other first-class passengers and decides to re-make himself as "Earl of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor," a Scottish nobleman, and he affects a Scottish accent.
Unfortunately, he knows nothing about being a nobleman but is able to bluff his way to New York City, all the while greatly impressing his new upper-class friends. He manages to find Martin despite being burdened by Michael, who has somewhat revived from the effects of the explosion, but still vacantly has no idea of what is happening.
Enter Tom Cronin, and ex-" enforcer" for the head of an Irish gang in New York City. He thinks he has escaped to a farm in the country until the gang leader shows up, "offering" him a job: finding and killing Francis Dempsey. For several of his own reasons, Cronin sees no alternative.
The story continues to take various twists and turns, as Francis freely spends his newfound riches, all the while unaware that Cronin is stalking him. He is nabbed and taken to the office of the head of the gang, where he is given a choice: assassinate the King of England during his upcoming visit to New York City to see the Fair, or see his brothers and Martin's family murdered.
Francis makes his choice, and the 1939 New York Worlds Fair – "The World of Tomorrow" – is involved in an exciting denouement.
The author has scored a major accomplishment with this, his first novel, and the reader is quickly pulled into the book. It is taut, the characters are well drawn and interesting, and it captured my interest from the first few pages.