Friday, 9 April 2021

Northern Spy by Flynn Berry @flynnberry_ #NorthernSpy @wnbooks @WillOMullane #BookReview


A producer at the Belfast bureau of the BBC, Tessa is at work one day when the news of another raid comes on the air: the IRA may have gone underground after the Good Friday agreement, but they never really went away. As the anchor requests the public's help in locating those responsible for this latest attack - a robbery at a gas station - Tessa's sister Marian appears on the screen, pulling a black mask over her face.

The police believe Marian has joined the IRA, but Tessa knows this is impossible. They were raised to oppose Republicanism, and the violence enacted in its name. They've attended peace vigils together. And besides, Marian is vacationing by the sea. Tessa just spoke to her yesterday.

But when the truth of what has happened to Marian reveals itself, Tessa will be forced to choose: between her ideals and her family. Walking an increasingly perilous road, she fears nothing more than endangering the one person she loves more fiercely than her sister: her infant son, Finn.

Northern Spy by Flynn Berry was published on 8 April 2021 by W&N. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

I practically inhaled this story, reading it in two large chunks over one day. Whilst it's not a long novel at under 300 pages, it really is a strong and powerful story that examines the strength of family bond within a pressurised and dangerous environment.

Tessa and Marian are sisters, they are very close, turning to each other in times of troubles and also to create happy memories. Tessa is single mother to six month old Finn whilst Marian is a paramedic. They both live around the area in which they were born and brought up in; the republican area of Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

Despite the Good Friday agreement, the tensions of the 'the troubles' have never really left the province. Things seem to be moving up a gear, and there's a sense of impending danger all around, with helicopters flying overhead, threats of bombings and increased security checks. 

Tessa works as a BBC broadcaster on a political programme and it is whilst she is preparing a show that she glances up at the news screen. The police are appealing for witnesses to an armed raid at a petrol station, and one of the raiders has shown their face on camera.  As Tessa continues to watch, she is horrified to see that face belongs to her sister Marian.  Both of them have always been anti terrorism, they've attended peace vigils together, Marian has attended to victims of the IRA in her job. They have never been IRA supporters.

Convinced that Marian has been abducted from the holiday cottage she had been staying in, Tessa goes to the police. It soon becomes clear that the security forces think that Marian is a member of the IRA, she was there by choice, and they begin to question Tessa's own loyalties too.

What follows is a compulsive and compelling story filled with danger and deceit. Tessa's main concern is the safety of Finn, as a mother, she will do anything to ensure his safety, but as a sister, she is totally devastated. She questions her whole relationship with Marian as she realises that nothing is quite what it seems. 

Berry is excellent at ramping up the tension as the pages are turned. Tessa is faced with huge decisions, some that can and will change the course of her whole life. This is a delicate setting to base a novel on, especially as most people think the troubles are over, and peace reigns in the North, although anyone watching the news this week will realise that feelings are still strong and violence is always simmering. 

Exquisitely tense, Northern Spy is so much more than just a psychological thriller. It is a study in family relationships, in communities and takes a long hard look at just how far a person will go in order to protect those that they love. 

FLYNN BERRY is a graduate of the Michener Center and has been awarded a Yaddo residency. 

She graduated from Brown University. 

Her first novel, UNDER THE HARROW, was awarded the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and was called ‘a triumph’ (Sunday Times) and ‘thrilling’ (New York Times). 
Her follow-up, A DOUBLE LIFE, was praised by Paula Hawkins and Clare Mackintosh among others and was called ‘blistering’ (New York Times) and ‘shocking’ (Guardian). 
Her third novel, NORTHERN SPY, is set in Northern Ireland. 

She lives in California.

Twitter @flynnberry_

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