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Book Reviews: Quinn's is a nuanced Michael Collins - The Irish News
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Book Reviews: Quinn's is a nuanced Michael Collins

Co Tyrone author Anthony J Quinn has written a very readable novel about Michael Collins


Blind Arrows by Anthony J Quinn, published by No Exit Press

In Neil Jordan's 1996 movie about Michael Collins, Liam Neeson played Collins as a version of John Wayne. It worked well but in Co Tyrone author Quinn's novel we gain a more nuanced version of the man who masterminded the Irish War of Independence.

The novel opens with Collins in a Bray hotel with his tea and musings, noticing an attractive young woman, Lily Merrin, who sits at the next table. The performance is repeated the next day as this unhappy creature, pretending to read a book, tries to shut out her recent history.

This beautifully described incident is the key to a fascinating detail of the struggle against English supremacy, that is the role of women prepared to sign up for idealistic and often personal reasons.

We learn Mrs Merrin, married to an English soldier who perished at the Somme, has lost her young son Isaac, abducted by the IRA. This hold persuades her to type out secret files she removes from her work at Dublin Castle. She has no choice yet is embroiled in a kind of romance with Collins.

Quinn's very readable novel is that unusual thing, an action story, with lots of uncut violence, written in a literary manner.

And although Collins has the necessary ruthlessness of the commander, the evil lies elsewhere. A character named Isham, a double agent, has a penchant for pursuing the young ladies involved in espionage with his pack of hounds. They end up dead, and sightless, the blind arrows of the title.

Martin Kant, the English journalist drawn into the story of his lifetime, is well drawn too. His romantic enthusiasm for Lily leads him to the heart of this darkness.We know how the history ends but Quinn's tale ends with a modicum of hope, tempered by Kant's despair at losing Lily to Ireland.

Jane Hardy


The Little Book of Derry, by Cathal McGuigan, published by The History Press

WHO better to review The Little Book of Derry than a perennially homesick Derry exile? This little book, by Dungiven writer and journalist Cathal McGuigan, is like Derry itself – compact and a bit quirky.

It also features gems of information and stories from across the county, all with lively illustrations by Adam Kee, who brings the pages and stories even more to life.

A fire tragedy at Watt’s Distillery in 1915 sadly resulted in loss of life but the book reveals: “The vats had to be opened during the fire and for a time whiskey flowed along the gutters in Derry.”

Also mentioned is the whale Dopey Dick’s wrong turn up the Foyle in 1977, writer Stephen King’s penchant for basing horror stories in towns called Derry and, a fact I never knew, the skeleton in the city’s coat of arms is Walter de Burgo, a Norman knight thrown into a dungeon by his cousin and left to starve in 1332.

Teaching a Derry person things they never knew about home is no mean feat.

Jennifer Maloney


Dark Corners by Ruth Rendell, published by Hutchinson

FORTY years on from her debut novel, this is crime writer Ruth Rendell's swan song, written before her death in May this year.

Young author Carl takes a tenant for the top floor of the London house he inherits, but never throws away a stack of pills and potions left by his late father. But when he sells some pills to a friend, his life begins to slowly unravel.

This is Rendell at her most subtle, showing how small, seemingly meaningless actions lead to momentous consequences and coolly demonstrating that conscience and the dark corners of our mind, are far more powerful and terrible than any outside influence.

True, it has a quaint feel in places, such as when Carl advertises in his local newspaper, instead of seeking a tenant online, but that doesn't detract from the razor-sharp insight into human nature. A steady turning of the screw builds to a disconcerting, rather than shocking end.

Gill Oliver


See Me by Nicholas Sparks, published in hardback by Sphere

NICHOLAS Sparks fans the world over will be in delirium with the release of his latest novel, See Me. And while it kicks off with the trademark romance, it somewhat gets overshadowed by a darker subplot that takes the novel in a more suspenseful direction, as lovers Maria and Colin are confronted by an unknown stalker.

If you're not a fan already, it's unlikely this will change your mind, and although Sparks arguably pulls off the novel, it's not his best. It might actually be that this is one of Sparks's stories that translates better on the big screen, and there's a sense that it's a screenplay in waiting.

As a reading experience however, it only partly delivers; Sparks is all about the romance (usually of the heartbreaking variety, but that's what readers love), but here that romance gets lost along the way (you won't even need the hankies!), and what's left is an OK suspense, but without any real emotional attachment. That extra 'Spark', if you will.

Jade Craddock


Dictator by Robert Harris, published in hardback by Hutchinson

ROBERT Harris closes his trilogy on the life of the great Roman statesman, orator and philosopher Cicero with this tale of his downfall, against the backdrop of the fall of the Republic and the rise of what would become the Roman Empire.

Again told through the eyes of his trusty slave and friend Tiro in retirement, it is a masterful story of political intrigue and power.

In the middle of the last century BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero tries in vain to hold republican Rome together, despite murder and civil war, against the Machiavellian ambitions first of Julius Caesar and then his successors Mark Anthony and Octavian.

Harris is careful to avoid making this too much of a hagiography of Cicero – he is a very human hero, a sharp-witted and masterful back-room political wheeler-dealer, as well as being one of history's great public speakers.

It is a fascinating and absorbing novel about the machinations behind some of the most momentous events in classical history.

David Wilcock


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