UNDERTOW by Tom Foote


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Routine but absorbing debut nautical thriller about a seasoned salt who avenges the death of his family by infiltrating an IRA terrorist cell, from an Irishman who knows his surf. During a bad storm off the picturesque Connemara coast, Jim Prendergast’s sailboat is deliberately destroyed by an unmarked vessel that, we quickly learn, is smuggling weapons for the IRA. Prendergast, 48, a retired Merchant Navy captain, survives but loses his wife and daughter. Foote, who writes with easy authority on matters both nautical and Irish, introduces a mixed bag of homicidal terrorists (including the de rigeur beautiful but lethal femme fatale) loosely affiliated with the IRA. Their apparent leader, Foster, a psychopathic Catholic who makes the sign of the cross over his victims after he murders them, is hired by the Libyans to sabotage an imminent meeting of world leaders on Irish soil—among them Sein Fein leader Gerry Adams, England’s Prime Minister, and America’s President. Meanwhile, to assuage his grief, Prendergast agrees to captain an aging rustbucket from Galway to a scrapyard, unaware that his employer has links to MI-6, whose shadowy upper-class executive, Jonathan Cooke, shamelessly manipulates Prendergast into Foster’s group. There are few surprises in Foote’s triple-cross plotting, or in his cinematic, blood-spurting violence. He also undercuts his worthy subtext—that the lust for revenge makes one prey for larger schemers who care nothing for human life—when, at the end, he forces Prendergast into a standard kill-or-be-killed confrontation with Foster. Still, the story’s ho-hum plot is supported by taut writing, strong detail, and an unusual compassion for a bunch of mixed-up Irishmen too angry to know that they’re their own worst enemies: a satisfying, above-average page-turner for Forsythe and Higgins fans.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8023-1320-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Dufour
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


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