Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Publisher:Amazon Digital Services
Ireland is a country steeped in significant history, from the medieval monks who saved the classics of Western Civilization from pillaging Vikings, to its long-suffering population whose courage and positive outlook on life have endured despite centuries of problems and provided the world with many immigrants who contributed greatly wherever they settled. It’s a country of beautiful, eerie, and primitive landscapes, and those adjectives often well describe its literature and music too. But one of the bloodiest periods in Irish history is simply called The Troubles. This book is set in the aftermath of that period where emotions still run high, the old guard remembers the atrocities, and their sons and daughters still have eyes toward retribution.
O’Carolan was the surname of the troubadour-harpist Turlough O’Carolan, who wrote some of the most beautiful Irish music, played and often set to different lyrics by Irish balladeers from the 1700s to Phil Coulter and other Irish performers today. When O’Carolan wrote, Ireland was primarily agrarian, more so than today. Entering on today’s stage in this novel is Pat O’Carolan, dairy farmer, a gentle giant who leads a quiet existence on his small farm. That bucolic peace is interrupted on the day he picks up niece Orla at the train station. She wants to spend some time with her uncle and his cows and count it toward her degree at the university. Unfortunately, al Shabab terrorists have other plans. They’ve learned through torture and murder that Pat has some special skills they don’t have—he was an IRA master bomb maker. Moreover, the IRA still has old arms caches sprinkled around the area and in England. Thus begins an intense thriller that will keep you turning the pages.
This O’Carolan turns out to be an elderly Rambo on steroids who can take it from the bad guys and give it back to them many times over (no spoilers there—this is a thriller, folks). But it isn’t just the bad guys. There’s an election coming, and old pals in the IRA are trying to play nice for the voters and the media, which leads to a cover-up of their activities from twenty years ago. Moreover, North Ireland police and the Irish Gardia are on O’Carolan’s tail, along with the terrorists. He had to make bombs for them because they’d kidnapped his niece. Gradually the reader learns the terrorists’ agenda—it mixes greed with terror.
The author knows the formula well—put your heroes, O’Carolan and his niece, in terrible situations and watch them squirm and struggle. The irony is that you will be rooting for this “decent bomber,” a reformed man drawn back into his violent history he thought he left behind him. I liken him to the gunslinger from the Old West who wants to be done with his guns and violence but is forced to strap his pistol on one more time. Eastwood’s Unforgiven has a similar plot. O’Carolan is a conflicted character, to say the least.
I had some problems with this book. The events are a bit too coincidental. First, the terrorists show up on the day Orla arrives from Dublin. Second, the scene of the second bomb (our decent bomber makes the first one a dud, but the terrorists discover his duplicity) too conveniently, from a plot perspective, involves several of the protagonists. To paraphrase Clancy, fiction has to seem real; this plot is a bit of a stretch. Third, the Northern Irish cop Boyle comes across as a sex addict—that wrinkle wasn’t needed at all and is a huge distraction. Boyle’s primary purpose is to be the cop in pursuit of the fugitive O’Carolan—he should have been left in that role. He has multiple reasons for that pursuit (his amorous problems aren’t among them), but I was wondering why we don’t know what happens to him at the end.
There are also a few editing lapses (dropped words are the most annoying), and the language is full of dialect, so what some might call lapses in grammar are excusable, but not all. I can understand some of these lapses occurring in dialect in dialogue, but in the other prose a good editing is needed. For example, I lost track of time sequencing because the past perfect isn’t used when I expected it—I didn’t know what followed what sometimes, although I eventually made sense of the timeline. The characterization is excellent, though; McNabb’s characters come to life as complex, 4D people (space and time, because most have a long and complicated history). I would have also been a wee bit more descriptive in the settings—without making it a travelogue, of course.
The plot is complex. You must pay attention. You will reap a lot of enjoyment if you do. This is a great story. You might ask: why did O’Carolan build the bombs? That’s part of the story, both past and present. And why is Ireland the target of African terrorists? That’s a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit. McNabb chalks it up to greed. Considering the ending, my take is that the British Empire is the target because the Brits mucked up a lot of things in the world in the Empire’s glory days and their wane. But the author makes sense of it all and has spun a good yarn. Any negatives here are just me nitpicking because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Most readers will jump on the thrill train and get the ride of their lives. In this genre, who could ask for anything more?