Book reviews: A History of the Belfast IRA, White, The Dangerous Kind, The Furies
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Belfast Battalion: A History of the Belfast IRA 1922-1969 by John O’Neill, published by Litter Press, priced £14.99
IN BELFAST Battalion: A History of the Belfast IRA 1922-1969, John O’Neill presents a very readable chronology of the IRA’s activities over almost 50 years. The book provides a unique insight into how the IRA emerged from the post-treaty period to maintain a presence in Ireland’s second city. In every decade since partition militant republicans have made their presence felt and the organisation in Belfast has played a critical role. In 1969 the Provisionals would eventually emerge as the dominant force in a divided IRA as the recent conflict began to take hold. Throughout Belfast Battalion the near constant conflict between the IRA and unionist authorities at Stormont is highlighted; republicans were regularly subject to arrest and detention without trial.
O’Neill identifies several largely forgotten but key episodes including the IRA killing of Belfast man Patrick Woods in November 1925. He was suspected of providing information that led to the discovery of an arms dump the previous year and he also gave evidence in the trial of a man later linked to the weapons. His killing resulted in the arrest of 50 men, with dozens detained without charge. The mass arrests took place just before the final shape of the border was confirmed in December 1925 and the Boundary Commission’s work came to an end. While some of those arrested were released, others were detained for several weeks, ensuring high profile figures were out of circulation during a critical political period.
The author also explores the role of a rouge IRA unit known as 'The Ginger Group' in the 1930s. This gang was blamed for blowing up a republican monument at the Harbinson Plot in Milltown Cemetery in 1938. The group emerged as part of a bid by some hardline republicans to precipitate conflict between the IRA and the unionist regime. The unit was also accused of shooting a former prison officer before the leadership of IRA in Belfast stepped in to close it down.
In total the Harbinson monument and replacements were targeted on three other occasions between 1937 and 1939, including once at a west Belfast sculptors' yard.
Belfast Battalion is an important addition to research into the history of the republican movement.
White by Bret Easton Ellis is published in hardback by Picador, priced £16.99 (ebook £14.99)
MY FIRST thoughts on White were: Should have really been titled Why? The one-time Brat Pack author, famous for his nihilistic novels Less Than Zero and The Rules Of Attraction, now spends a lot of his time winding up millennenials on Twitter. Here he muses at length about his favourite films, music, books, mixed with memoir, in his first foray into non-fiction. However, though it's patchy, there are enough flashes of insight, and an insider's guide to the publishing and movie world, to make you stay with it. White rambles through sometimes banal recollections of dinner and drinks with a bewildering cast from Kanye West to Tina Brown, but it does make some serious points about free speech, the online tyranny that refuses to tolerate, the 'wrong' opinions, and the cynicism of the movie industry. However, once the point is made (repeatedly) about illiberal liberalism, there's little left beyond the polemics in some chapters.
The Dangerous Kind by Deborah O'Connor is published in hardback by Zaffre, priced £12.99 (ebook £4.07)
JESSAMINE'S radio show investigates the past of convicted killers, pinpointing the red flags leading up to their act of violence. But when Jessamine becomes involved in an open missing person case, she's suddenly living what she's spent a decade retrospectively working on. The Dangerous Kind is a highly topical, psychological crime thriller that flicks between past and present, through four central character perspectives. O'Connor's plot is so intensely layered – interweaving several true-to-life, high-profile scandals, including child grooming, sexual abuse, and historical sex crimes – that it's uncomfortable to read in parts. And yet the relentless pace keeps you turning the page for the next revelation. Jessamine herself epitomises the evolution of journalism, and comments on the surge in popularity for true crime, while Rowena's story shows how society is now prepared to listen to these historic offences, and protect the vulnerable people involved. Thought-provoking and haunting, O'Connor doesn't shy away from the controversial, but embraces it. The journey twists and turns throughout, delving ever-deeper, and leading up to an ending you won't see coming until the very last.
The Furies by Katie Lowe is published in hardback by HarperCollins, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
A STUDENT is found dead in the grounds of a private girls' school, in a dilapidated seaside town. The police can't understand how she died, let alone who was responsible. But Violet, a fellow student, knows exactly what happened. Following in the footsteps of Angela Carter and Joanne Harris, debut novelist Katie Lowe also draws on the cinematic legacy of The Craft, Heathers and Mean Girls in this tale of Greek myth, revenge and murder. Part inverted detective story, part study of the intensity of teenage female friendship heightened by hormones and inexperience, The Furies twists and turns at shocking speed, keeping the reader guessing throughout. Its weakness is how blatantly Lowe displays her apparent influences: I was constantly put in mind of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and the minor characters are somewhat starved of detail to focus on Violet's obsession with her new friendship. A promising, enjoyable debut all the same.