Halifax attorney Monty Collins and his wife, professor Maura MacNeil, come to Ireland just in time to sink neck-deep in the latest round of the Troubles.
The beginning of 1995 finds Monty’s Dublin-born friend, Father Brennan Burke, visiting his Belfast relatives at the same time that Monty’s been embedded in a Belfast law firm. Their closeness brings the two old friends together, but not necessarily in the best ways. Although Monty’s been placed temporarily with Ellison Whiteside to do some boring commercial work, the departure of one of EW’s associates one step ahead of the law leaves a number of his criminal cases hanging, and Monty eagerly accepts the invitation to step into the breach. In the meantime, he’s been importuned by Katie Flanagan to find out what happened to her father, Eamon Flanagan, who supposedly drowned three years ago after a fall from the Ammon Road Bridge on the same night that Provo soldier Fritzy O’Dwyer was shot to death very close by. Although Monty wants no part of a case bound to earn him the enmity of either the Loyalists or the Unionists, he seems unable to help learning further details that scream coverup. Brennan, for his part, has grown close enough to his cousin Ronan Burke’s family that Ronan’s son Tomás confesses to him a murder he committed and asks both absolution and Brennan’s help in retrieving the murder weapon, which he hurriedly left years ago in a hiding place that’s all too vulnerable. The plot to recover the rifle predictably goes wrong, leaving Brennan hanging out to dry just as Monty has raised enough hackles to get himself and his friends gently but firmly threatened if he doesn’t drop the Flanagan case. The determination of each of the two old friends to protect the other by keeping him in ignorance ends up backfiring in a spectacular way.
Emery (Lament for Bonnie, 2016, etc.) populates 1995 Belfast so conscientiously and evokes its atmosphere so faithfully that the historical background ends up swallowing the plot she’s devised, which for all its twists and turns can’t possibly compete with the Troubles.