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A Republican congressman from New York makes an unfortunate excursion into the politics of Ireland in this debut describing Ulster’s Troubles of the early 1980s. A novel written by a politician ought to be regarded much as Dr. Johnson looked upon the dancing bear: One is impressed not so much that it is done well, but that it is done at all. That said, it must still be pointed out that Congressman King has given us a piece of IRA agitprop that Brendan Behan himself wouldn—t be able to read with a straight face. Set mostly in Belfast, the story concerns Bernadette Hanlon, a heroic Catholic housewife and mother whose husband Dermot (an IRA member) is imprisoned under special antiterrorism laws on the testimony of an informer. While he’s locked away in Castlereagh Gaol, Bernadette contents herself at first with visiting him as often as she can and keeping his spirits up with news of home and children—but circumstances soon force her into a more complex role. She’s asked, as an aggrieved IRA wife, to help organize and canvass for the local Sinn Fein candidate, and she succeeds so well that she comes to the attention of Gerry Adams himself, who takes a personal interest in her husband’s case. The judicial bane of Irish terrorists in the 1980s was the ’supergrass” (or ’snake in the grass—) system—by which uncorroborated evidence from paid informers was admitted into criminal proceedings—and Bernadette now becomes a prominent spokesman against it. She travels to the US to speak to pro-IRA groups, and at home she assassinates a prominent Catholic politician who was a secret informer. Eventually, her efforts—along with some pressure from US politicians—get her husband’s case reopened. Straight-faced propaganda, without a hint of irony, a shade of complexity, or a suggestion of depth: If King is looking for a photo-op with Gerry Adams, he’s earned it.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-57098-262-7
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2000


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