A young woman becomes torn between two men as she grapples with a tragedy in this political and religious thriller set in Northern Ireland during the 1970s “Troubles.”
In December 1978, Jennifer Hamilton’s priority is telling her parents she wants to drop out of college and focus on the violin rather than the religious warfare plaguing Northern Ireland between the British Protestants and Irish Roman Catholics. On her family’s farm, their idyllic life and Protestant faith are isolated from the frequent bombings of the Troubles. But this changes in her 20s. She and a friend skip class and barely miss an Irish Republican Army bombing, but witness the death of a child. A few months later, she joins her parents for afternoon tea at a cafe when a car bomb detonates outside the building, incinerating her parents and severely injuring Jennifer. She cannot bear to return to the farm where happiness no longer resides, and lands in the arms of a previous casual lover, Mike McLeod. He’s an unsuitable suitor due to his rank as a sergeant in the British army (McLeod is a “soldier in an army of occupation”). But he offers Jennifer security and potential revenge when he conscripts her into a covert operation against the IRA. Jennifer is sent to infiltrate an IRA cell by posing as a violinist in a band of suspected sympathizers. Maintaining her detachment undercover becomes difficult when the band leader, Séan Maguire, turns out to be so sexy and attentive. Jennifer's heart is confused as she struggles to decide where her true romantic and political loyalties lie, and where she belongs as a rudderless adult. In this historical novel, Shannon (Tales from Erin, 2016, etc.) is clearly drawing on her own personal background and experiences as a Northern Ireland native. The dialogue includes Gaelic phrases, and the text is enriched by historical references to killings and bombings (a Radio Ulster newscaster, with an Anglo-Northern Irish accent, tells listeners at one point: “On Friday two members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were killed in the Ardoyne in Belfast, when the car bomb they were transporting exploded prematurely”). But the novel is too prolonged, with a slow pace that fails to maintain the plot’s tension. Entire chapters of band performances could be edited to beneficial effect.
A sluggish IRA tale with a touch of romance that should impress readers with its political acumen.