Two absorbing narrative lines follow an imagined perpetrator and potential victims in the 1984 bombing that targeted Margaret Thatcher and other Conservative Party notables meeting at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England.
Lee (Who Is Mr Satoshi, 2010, etc.) uses few historical characters as his story toggles within a fictional trio: Dan, an accomplice to the bombing; the hotel’s deputy manager, nicknamed Moose; and his feisty daughter, Freya. After initiation into the Provisional Irish Republican Army at 18, Dan is shown briefly working on smaller “ops” but mainly sharing with his widowed mother a fairly normal life in Northern Ireland. His role in the bombing begins when he checks into the hotel and offers cover for an IRA explosives expert. Moose is caught up in preparations for the Conservative Party conference that will have Margaret Thatcher and Cabinet members staying at the Grand. If it goes off well, so to speak, he expects to become the general manager. The divorced father worries about Freya, 18, who is marking time before college with a job on the hotel’s front desk, finding and losing a beau, and fighting with or fretting over her dad. The fragile normalcy of these lives on both sides of the Irish Sea is nicely conveyed, with smaller points of tension adding to the reader’s anticipation of the known climax, such as Dan’s sense of a growing threat to his home and mother or Moose’s loss of managerial control when he suffers a heart attack. The bomb itself is the main slow-burning fuse of suspense, detonated late in the tale. As one character says of movies, “sometimes the before is more interesting than the after.”
Lee’s writing has a marked freshness, his pacing and dialogue are exceptional, and every scene is deftly handled. This is a real craftsman at work.