Review: Lyra McKee - Angels with Blue Faces
THIS is not your typical book. The circumstances of its publication after the cruel murder of Lyra McKee in April mean Angels with Blue Faces will receive enormous attention well beyond Ireland. The project itself dates back to 2013 when the author sought crowd-funding to research, write and publish her findings and though completed two years ago, initially it never saw the light of day. However, a matter of weeks before her killing by the New IRA as she watched a riot in Derry, this final draft was signed off, ready for publication by Belfast-based Excalibur Press.
It's a short book – not much more than 16,000 words – and its main focus is the 1981 IRA murder of Rev Robert Bradford, then the Ulster Unionist MP for South Belfast. It explores the possibility that his killing was linked, via the British security services, to the cover-up of a child abuse ring at Kincora boys home.
The speculation is based on claims that the late MP had been "asking questions" about Kincora before his death. In 2017, Sir Anthony Hart's inquiry into historical institutional abuse concluded there is no evidence to support allegations that security agencies were complicit in the abuse of children at the notorious boys home in east Belfast, which had been run for a while by William McGrath, an eccentric Orangeman, fringe loyalist paramilitary, suspected MI5 agent, and paedophile.
The author notes in the book's epilogue: "In England, somewhat recent claims of a paedophile ring centred on Westminster have largely been dismissed, meaning Hart's conclusions seem more readily accepted by the public than they may have been before."
While ostensibly a work of investigative journalism, Angels with Blue Faces reads more like pulp noir; it's a collection of fictionalised and surmised episodes, accounts of meetings with other journalists and sources, alongside a personal take on life in post-conflict Belfast. The narrative meanders and the prose is often clunky. It would have benefited from the services of an experienced editor – for instance, I've never known a clock to strike 11.35am.
Regrettably, there's little, if any, evidence produced to support the book's premise. It can be argued that the pursuit of the story, the false leads, and the encounters with reticent protagonists, coupled with the author's own testimony, help give an investigation legitimacy, while also contributing to the overall drama. However, when ultimately all this effort yields no new substantive information, the reader is left disappointed.