This is the 10th book in a series involving Monty Collins, a lawyer, and Brennan Burke, a priest. Though I had not read any other books in the series, I did not have any problem following the story.
It begins in January, 1995. The protagonists generally reside in Halifax, Canada, but Monty is on temporary assignment at a Belfast law firm for one of his biggest clients in Halifax. He expected to be finished and back in Halifax by May. Five months is a long time, so Monty decided to bring his wife and children with him as well as Brennan, who is taking the opportunity to visit his extended family in Ireland. (Brennan is practically a part of Monty’s family now since they all met in Halifax five years before.)
Although there is a cease-fire between the Catholics and Protestants battling in Northern Ireland, just to be safe Monty situates his wife and kids in Dublin and will see them on weekends.
A large part of the book goes into the situation in Northern Ireland. In brief, and skipping the whole prior history of conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland, the more recent time of “The Troubles” began in the late 1960s and continued until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the Irish nationalist minority by the dominant unionist majority. [The main political divide in Northern Ireland is between unionists, who wish to see Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom, and nationalists, who wish to see Northern Ireland unified with the Republic of Ireland, independent from the United Kingdom. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions.] The British wanted to keep Northern Ireland as part of Britain in spite of racist feelings against the Irish Catholics; the Irish provided raw goods such as beef and dairy to the English, inter alia, and in any event the majority in the North was comprised of Protestants who wanted to stay with Britain. The modern conflict involved a great deal of violence between operatives of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) representing the nationalists, and the Loyalists representing the unionists. As early as 1969, armed campaigns of paramilitary groups began, with the goal of eliminating British rule in Northern Ireland and creating of a United Ireland.
By the time an agreement was reached, between 3500 and 3700 people had been killed, with over 100,000 injured.
Brennan is staying in Belfast with his cousin Ronan, who is a major player in trying to effect a peace agreement. But the process is far more complicated than Brennan realizes.
Meanwhile, Monty is asked for legal help by a local girl, 16-year-old Katie Flanagan, whose family is about to be evicted. In 1992, her father Eamon fell off a bridge and died. It was on the same night and in the same place that an IRA operative was assassinated. The police said Eamon must have fallen, but the family is convinced he was pushed somehow. Katie shows Monty the autopsy report which supports the theory that Eamon was hit by a car and thrown off the bridge by the impact. If Monty can prove this, he can get insurance money from the driver of the car for the family. But Monty, like Brennan, is unaware of the broader picture, and his inquiries stir up far more trouble than he could know.
Before long, all are suffering the consequences of the good-hearted but uninformed meddling of Brennan and Monty.
Discussion: I liked the story, although the author didn’t make it easy for me. There is a lot of historical background provided in the text about the conflict in Northern Ireland, but I thought the author employed a clumsy narrative technique to do so; it was much too didactic. Whenever the characters go anywhere, we get a history of the place: “The graveyard is one of the most potent symbols of nationalism in the country…” “‘We’ve seen worse on this holy ground,’ Ronan said. ‘I was here in ’88.’” Cue in history of what happened in 1988. Someone mentions Bloody Sunday. Cue in history of Bloody Sunday. Brennan had a friend who died in the bombing in 1974. Cue in the history, etc.
Some attempts at education seem particularly ham-handed: Brennan: “As you may be aware, Monty, the Dáil is the Irish parliament.” [It is pretty unlikely he wouldn’t know.]
And often it seemed like irrelevant minutiae clogged up the story in an attempt to serve as a travel & customs guide to Ireland, viz: “He poured a Smithwick’s for Maura and a Guinness for himself.”
Evaluation: I warmed up to the story as it progressed, and the character dynamics among Monty, Maura, and Brennan are quite interesting. But I’m not sure if I would want to continue with the series.
Published by ECW Press, 2018