In Carroll’s (Dooley’s Dollars, 2010, etc.) political thriller, the Irish Republican Army organizes an attack on the London Underground, sending in five disposable people.
In 1986 Northern Ireland, Carlos approaches members of the IRA with a plan: In exchange for two million dollars, he’ll formulate a scheme to stop the London Underground trains, effectively shutting down the British capitol. The price is steep, but the IRA hopes the resultant chaos will bolster Northern Ireland’s claim for independence. Pat, Gerry, Sean, Roddy and Peter, each deemed expendable, are chosen to enact the scheme; all they have to do is follow simple instructions and stay clear of authorities. The novel gets off to a bumpy start with (female) Pat on the thieving end of a daring armored-van heist; the scene may strike readers as out of place, since Pat is anything but the novel’s protagonist. Subsequent chapters center on numerous characters, introducing the other four terrorists individually as they are selected for the mission. The travels of mastermind Carlos as well as IRA agents Roger and Krells prove overly detailed, further adding to the book’s sluggish start. But once the plan is set in motion, the novel hits its narrative stride. Suddenly, even the seemingly mundane act of Carlos purchasing gardening tools will pique readers’ curiosity because its eventual purpose is certain. The book focuses more on descriptions of preparations than the actual terrorist act, affording ample time for characters’ personalities to develop. All the would-be terrorists, excluding Gerry, pass the weeks together awaiting instructions—Pat with Paul, the tour guide; Roddy with Francie, the young nanny—each manifesting different outcomes. There are also frequent reminders of the looming plan: Peter times the distance between the Underground and his hotel; Pat constantly worries about a double-cross; Gerry researches the Underground, determined to learn what he’ll be asked to do. Quite a bit of slang is utilized but it’s subtly defined; the meaning of a curvy barmaid’s “Charlies” is easy to discern. The ending may seem anticlimactic to some readers, but perhaps that’s the point of the novel—the ends depend on what may or may not go wrong with the means.
Occasional narrative stumbles are more than made up for with deft characterizations.