The failure of a resurgent Irish Republican Army–planned bombing in 2016 London puts an Irishman on the run from both MI5 and his boss in Benacre’s (McCann, 2015, etc.) thriller.
A bomb threat tips off MI5 with specific details: a sophisticated device lies in a central London skyscraper. Intelligence officers, including Neill McCormac, surmise it was planted by Michael McCann, already a suspected covert IRA member, a Cleanskin. MI5 manages to locate the nuclear bomb and successfully disarm it before its Easter Friday denotation time. By then, McCann’s over 100 miles away, unaware that IRA surveillance and a clandestine Patricia Whelan have eyes on him. But once McCann realizes nothing exploded in London, he’s on the lam, knowing IRA leader Frank O’Neill’s Middle Eastern terrorist pals will target him for assassination. He goes deep undercover as Russian sailor Yury Borzov while accomplice/warlord Ruslan Barayev ducks out in Amsterdam. There’s a danger, of course, of MI5 tracking down Barayev, having found Mia Dawkin, an escort McCann saw back in ’03 and ’08. Agents themselves are understandably nervous that someone’s got a second nuclear bomb somewhere. Mass killings within an unstable IRA, meanwhile, signal a possible clean slate for McCann—provided he’s not on the hit list, too. The novel opens full tilt, the plans for the bombing a main plot in an earlier McCann book. McCann, as in preceding stories, is delectably complex, easy to cheer on as he skillfully adapts to his Yury persona despite readers’ knowledge that his device would likely have killed countless Londoners. But while it’s fascinating to watch the protagonist incognito, as well as the fallout his actions have for others in his life, it doesn’t afford much suspense. McCann is so good at hiding that he rarely seems to be at any risk and, sure enough, later becomes more invested in having sex with girlfriend Bonnie’s closer-in-age mom, Pat Munro. Regardless, the perspective of MI5 retains a lively narrative, especially its methods— using a keystroke signature like a fingerprint—and collective resolve, periodic talks with Mia evolving into “monthly luncheons.”
An IRA protagonist perhaps too smart for his pursuers, but the recurring character is always entertaining.