In this thriller series opener, a covert Irish Republican Army member becomes part of a planned bombing in London, which agencies are scrambling to prevent.
“Cleanskin” Michael McCann, with no obvious link to the Republican movement, is on a secret IRA mission. He’s had eyes on Sarah Price for some time before making contact—or, rather, waiting at a London cafe for the woman to start a conversation. His real interest, however, is her older sister, Karen Wallace. Karen’s significance isn’t immediately revealed, but it’s linked to an impending strike by the resurgent IRA, over 50 simultaneous attacks on the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. MI5 recruiter Neill McCormac, meanwhile, on a joint team of MI5 and Irish intelligence agencies, is working a case on Joe Gorman, the de facto head of the revived IRA. Joe’s under heavy surveillance (even his main driver’s bugged), but Frank O’Neill’s the true mastermind behind the secret operation, so even Joe doesn’t have all the details, including Michael’s identity. Knowing of the attack but initially unaware of its date, the agencies eventually develop a “Cleanskin theory.” Soon, Michael suspects someone’s surveilling him, but he can’t be careful for too long with Easter on the horizon. There’s little action in Benacre’s (McCann, 2015) story, but heaps of intrigue and espionage. McCormac and the team’s guesswork, for example, on the possible types of attack (biological, cyber, etc.) is an apt display of the investigation’s thoroughness. The plot’s rich in history and character back story, like Frank and half brother Pat’s violent past in Dublin, before and through the Troubles. Michael, too, is captivating, easily manipulating people (it’s essential Karen seduce him, not the other way around) and making post-bombing plans he hides from Frank. Nevertheless, some of what Michael does is decidedly less engaging: he deems waitress Ghadir one of his “key objectives,” but their sexual relationship is for his personal benefit. The ending, which perfectly sets up the sequel, is also somewhat anticlimactic.
A slow but riveting tale with rigorous ties to real-world events.