Northern Spy by Flynn Berry: A review

 

Northern Ireland. It has been years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, ostensibly putting an end to the sectarian violence of the Troubles, but those who live there know that the tensions continue to simmer. The Irish Republican Army is still active and unlikely to surrender anytime soon.

A young woman named Tessa lives in an isolated village there with her baby son. She is recently divorced from the boy's father but maintains an amicable relationship with him. She works at the BBC News Belfast bureau as a producer and goes through the daily motions of her quiet life, taking care of her son and spending time with her mother and sister. Then one day all of that changes. While working on a news story, Tessa views a video of an IRA robbery. She is shocked to see that one of the robbers is her sister, Marian. Marian has always seemed apolitical and she is an emergency health care worker, seemingly a most unlikely recruit for the IRA. Tessa is even more shocked when her sister contacts her and admits that she has been a member of the IRA for seven years. She was persuaded to become a member by their stated opposition to economic inequality. But more recently, she has become a double agent, passing along information to MI5 in an effort to jump-start peace talks. And now she finds that she herself may be in trouble with the IRA because a bomb that she had created failed to explode. They have become suspicious of her and are keeping her under close surveillance. She has been unable to contact her MI5 handler. The handler makes contact with Tessa and a plan is hatched whereby Tessa can pass along information for her sister. She joins the IRA crew and becomes ever more heavily involved in their dangerous activities. 

Meantime, Tessa's life continues to be outwardly quiet as she goes through her daily routines. She comes to the realization that to save her sister and protect her son and make Northern Ireland safe for his future, it is worth putting herself in danger. She is torn by her loyalty to her sister and her fear for her son's future. The writer effectively conveys these conflicting emotions by her use of short chapters that make the narrative flow and move along swiftly. It also conveys the difficulty of Tessa's personal choices and the consequences of those choices for Tessa and her family.

I had not read any of Flynn Berry's work before but I was impressed with the quality of her lyrical writing here. She has created a spine-tingling thriller that is taut and succinct and yet communicates the fraught circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland as it stumbles its way toward what is hoped will be a more peaceful future. Her descriptions of the setting give the reader of sense of being there. In Tessa, she has given us an ordinary woman who is pulled into an extraordinary situation by her love for her sister. The overwhelming sense that one has of her is that she is a compassionate person trying to live a humane life in very difficult circumstances. Her story is a poignant exploration of the question of what one would be willing to sacrifice for peace. In the end, she finds her answer.

Overall, I liked this book very much and I really liked Tessa. My only quibble is that the ending seemed a little contrived, but that is a very small quibble indeed.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. Yeah I liked this one all right. It definitely puts you in the mind-set of such a situation. Plenty of anxiety. The one sister surely puts a lot on her sister Tessa. holy smokes that's a lot to ask of someone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marian absolutely was asking a lot of her sister. I thought Berry did a good job of conveying the conundrum faced by Tessa and why she responded as she did.

      Delete
    2. Wow, this one sounds fascinating. I've tend to like books about The Troubles, even though some have been difficult to read because of the violence, betrayals, and disruption of families and relationships. The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville and Shadows on Our Skin by Jennifer Johnston are both excellent.

      Delete
    3. I've enjoyed several books set in Northern Ireland as well. Did you ever watch the tv series "Derry Girls"? I think it was on Netflix. It was terrifically entertaining.

      Delete
    4. Yes, and it was so funny!

      Delete
  2. i remember seeing the violence and madness on tv at the time... not very much appealing in it all, i thought... sometimes i understand that i never have come to terms with the world we live in...

    ReplyDelete
  3. It continues to dumbfound me that these sectarian struggles continue, seemingly without end, and old hatreds are routinely passed down from one generation to another. Children are taught to hate children. Life is an eternal siege between "us" and "them" with the corrosive impact of religion to give oxygen to the strife . It is depressing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We see it in our own country today, the "us" vs. "them" siege, and it is indeed depressing and destructive.

      Delete
  4. Glad you had a chance to try this one. I liked it even though it was not perfect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe it wasn't perfect but it came close enough for me.

      Delete
  5. What a shock to find out your sister's a member of the IRA and has been for seven years! I haven't read many books set in Ireland, but this one intrigues me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was especially a shock because the two sisters were so close. Northern Ireland as a setting for a novel can be tricky but I think Flynn Berry got it just about right.

      Delete
  6. We like thrillers and this one sounds pretty good!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This sounds really good. I'm intrigued by that part of Northern Ireland history, and this one seems to have several interesting twists. I'm not familiar with this author, but I'm about to sit down and see what the Harris County library system has around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They should have at least some of her books and maybe even this one. I think it came out in April this year.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Excerpt from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review

Poetry Sunday: Invitation by Mary Oliver