Author of Too Long a Sacrifice (1980), an acute review of conflict in Northern Ireland, Belfast-born Holland here centers the strain and violence of the Troubles in the thais of an IRA prisoner's wife who rebels against the role of passively-accepting, ever-chaste ""Mother Ireland."" For three years, Nora Costello has joined the drab group of women and children who take a weekly bus to Long Nest Prison--where she visits her husband Johnny. True, the Costello marriage was in trouble before the imprisonment: Johnny's an irrepressible ""street demon"" who came alive only for the Cause, becoming unhappy and self-conscious when alone with Nora. But now, with Johnny's sacrifice (hers is expected, devalued), the couple has entered the ""public arena""--as Nora is crowded into the bleak saintliness expected of a ""prisoner's wife."" Then, however, from America comes reporter Michael Boyd, a friend of Nora's early adolescence, bringing memories of earlier promise and the soft and warming things which Belfast's gray conflict has withered: art, gentle speculations, dreams, and laughter. And Boyd, though attracted strongly to Nora, is on the prowl for a story: he interviews all major factions and eventually finds himself the courier of hidden stolen money stashed away since the failed ""moneybags"" caper Johnny had led. Will Nora allow Boyd to deliver the money, which only she can locate--money which the IRA will spend on guns, on unseating a moderate leadership willing to negotiate amnesty and withdrawal with the British? Should Nora betray her hope of peace on the Cause and her husband? Before making her decision, she'll be the target of a sadistic policeman and equally vicious community ""humiliation."" And finally, in London, Nora prepares to join Boyd in America. . . but Johnny has escaped from prison. Although the characters are somewhat thin when divorced from their thematic function, the Belfast setting is a convincing shambles of flaring hostilities and remnants of old civilities; and Holland's wedging of fictional situations within today's headlines makes a trim fit. Sturdy and rather too-neat fiction, then, but quietly worthy and all too timely.