Northern Irish writer Park (Swallowing the Sun, 2004, etc.) chillingly and entertainingly envisions the entanglements of a South African–style Truth and Reconciliation tribunal in post-Troubles Belfast.
The eponymous commissioner is Henry Stanfield, a lawyer and aging ladies’ man who wears his self-conscious rectitude like a cravat. It threatens to become a noose, though, when his estranged and pregnant daughter asks him to watch out for her friend, the sister of a petty thief and informer named Connor Walshe who vanished in 1990. Stanfield is slated to preside over the truth commission’s investigation of Connor’s disappearance. The noose tightens when Stanfield is confronted with compromising photos and nudged to whitewash the case. The memories and testimony of three principals, all well realized, flesh out the story of what happened to Connor. Retired policeman James Fenton was the teenage informer’s handler. “Danny,” a groundskeeper in Florida, has done all he can to banish memories of the day when, as an 18-year-old named Michael Madden, he drove Connor into the countryside for interrogation and witnessed his fate. Francis Gilroy, the government’s new Minister for Children and Culture, has every reason to cover up what he did as an IRA honcho in 1990. There are occasional glitches, especially in the account of Danny’s life in America, and Park seems to lose interest along the way in having his title character occupy the narrative’s center, but the novel is fast-paced and chilling, a pleasing hybrid of literary fiction and political thriller. The truth, we discover again and again, may be fragile and malleable, a commodity to be wrangled over, tweaked, rationed, buried—yet it’s also unpredictably powerful, finding channels through which to course despite the lies meant to divert it.
Intricately constructed and powerful.