Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344
Cal McCluskey is the titular character, and he and his father, Shamie, are the last Catholic family in their neighborhood in Belfast. Cal is nineteen years old, and his father wants Cal to work in the abattoir (a slaughterhouse) with him, but Cal claims that he doesn't have the stomach for it—it's a pretty bloody business. About a year before the story begins, Cal participated in some crimes led by a couple of guys he knows in the Irish Republican Army, including one murder of a cop, a Robert Morton. Cal ends up getting a job on the Morton estate where Robert's mother, father, widow, and daughter still live. The guilt over his role in Robert's murder threatens to overwhelm him, especially when he begins a relationship with Robert's widow.
Crilly is Cal's so-called friend from school that headed up these crimes. He's not a nice person, and he's not particularly intelligent. He has no problem committing violent crimes against Protestants, unlike Cal, and he takes the job Shamie wishes Cal would keep at the abattoir.
Skeffington is the other participant in the crimes against Protestants. When Cal tries to stop helping Skeffington and Crilly, Skeffington gets really angry and accuses Cal of defecting. He believes that Cal will become an informant next (and he is, essentially, correct).
Mrs. Morton is Robert Morton's mother. She's a Protestant who wishes to be thought of as open-minded, and so she did not object when her son wanted to marry a Catholic girl of Italian heritage. She gives Cal a job and then, later, a place to live when his house is burned down by Loyalists.
Marcella Morton is Robert's widow and a Catholic. Cal becomes obsessed with her after he sees her working at the library, and he realizes that she's the widow of the man he helped to murder. She has a daughter, Lucy, and lives with her in-laws at their request. She eventually develops a relationship with Cal, and she does not learn of his involvement in her husband's murder during the book.
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