Jim Dowd and Maureen O'Brien are sent to the notorious location of the Ardoyne a republican enclave in a divided and secular Belfast of the 1980's...."Several streets have disappeared altogether leaving large tracts of waste ground covered in the rubble of demolition. The scene resembles the shattered landscapes of Britain's cities in the aftermath of German bombing during the Second World War."... Their mission is to settle, infiltrate and befriend a deeply suspicious mainly Catholic population. Their occupation is that of school teachers, cast adrift in a world full of dangerous men, and they must use all their training and skill to avoid being outed as infiltrators and spies. Once accepted in the community they patiently await further instructions from their handlers in London. As time passes Jim becomes attracted to Kathleen McKee the daughter of Jimmy McKee, quartermaster of the Ardoyne branch of the IRA. This is a dangerous situation made even worse when orders are received to assassinate Sean Murphy the Ardoyne OC (Officer Commanding) Has Jim become too involved and understanding of the plight of the catholic population to carry out his orders? Can Maureen convince him how perilous their situation is fast becoming imploring him to do as ordered?
I have to confess that I have a keen knowledge of the politics of Northern Ireland at the time. I lived in Belfast during this period and knew firsthand what it felt like living in a country close to the brink of civil war. The constant bombings and tensions between a proud and stubborn people were a day to day occurrence creating a very nervous and uneasy environment in which to live. Stewart Binns has written a wonderful book that oozes fear and suspicion from the very first chapter creating a tour de force that is impossible to put down. His use of dialogue to build a picture of a society in meltdown creates some of the most memorable prose I have read this year....."We must have victory, victory at all costs, however long the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."........."On the other hand, the opposite side of his head explodes. Blood and brain matter are sprayed everywhere making a shocking splash as they cascade across the inside of the windscreen. His short life is over in an instant."....."We're like so many others- civilians and military, guilty and innocent. We're all pawns in a game. So many have died; there's been so much pain, so much hurt."..........
You, dear reader, will have to read this book for yourself to discover if Jim and Maureen can escape before their true identity becomes know to the local IRA.
As always in politics life is complicated and every organization be it MI5, MI6, Special Branch etc have hidden agendas and are equally as ruthless in their ability to carry out killings..."There's a rogue unit at large; right wing, disaffected. They're on our tails and feeding intel back to the RUC which, in turn, may be leaking it to the IRA and its ASU in England."... Over the years I have read a number of books concerning "The Troubles" and Betrayal by Stewart Binns is undoubtedly one of the best. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley and Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. Highly Recommended.