I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in Ireland during the Troubles and so it is just as difficult to understand how life is different, and the same, since the Good Friday Agreement which led to the demilitarisation of Northern Ireland. Claire McGowan describes both in what appears to this outsider, in an incredibly thoughtful and realistic way.
As the book opens the Missing Persons Unit set-up to find people on both sides of the border between Northern and Southern Ireland are asked to assist with the discovery of a body, this is unusual, normally their subjects are presumed to be alive. Mickey Doyle has been found hanged, presumed murder and was one member of the Mayday Five, a terrorist group who are strongly suspected of planting a bomb that killed sixteen people, including babies and children. The group have been called in because the remaining four members are also missing but tensions in the town are running high, not least because the Mayday Five have recently been found not guilty and until their disappearance were free to live their lives.
This is a tough book to read because of the raw grief of the survivors of the bomb illustrated in the meetings they hold to discuss those who went about their business on the day the bomb exploded changing the lives of those around them forever. Paula McGowan does a fantastic job of creating the tension between the survivors and the police who are committed to tracking down the Mayday Five, and finding whoever was responsible for Mickey Doyle’s murder. This is definitely a story that captures the conflict caused by doing the right thing for those who carried out a horrendous atrocity.
Part of the tale, that of what really happened on the day of the bombing is relayed in the form of a book by an investigative journalist that Paula uses as a guide to what is known locally to have happened, a source that is useful to her having been in England at the time. This also helps the reader to understand why each question posed to those in the town has to be so mindful of past grudges and the subtleties of the importance of religion seventeen years on from the Good Friday Agreement.
This is the third in the series that features Paula McGuire, a forensic psychologist who works for a missing persons unit based on the border between Paula is a likeable and realistic character. She returned to her childhood home to look after her father but has remained despite his recent marriage to her childhood sweetheart’s mother. There is still a feeling that Paula hasn’t made this her home, and the house has its own ghosts as her mother disappeared one day when Paula was a teenager and to this day no-one, despite Paula using all her investigative skills, knows what happened to her. This book continues that search and brings Paula into contact with more people who might be able to tell her the truth. However with her pregnancy nearing the end, Paula has more pressing matters to resolve, such as who is the father of her child, and building the right kind of relationship with both potential fathers. Oh yes, this book is full of tension, both professional and personal aided by seemingly impossible problems to solve and one where doing the right thing could cause harm to those who arguably hold the moral high ground.
I’ve read and enjoyed both the The Lost and The Dead Ground but really felt that the writing had moved up a notch which was incredibly readable despite the complicated storyline coupled with what is a highly complex background. I’m sure this would work well as a standalone novel but I do think there is lots to be gained from the previous two books in terms of the relationships that have formed and developed along the way.
I’d like to extend a huge thank you to the publishers Headline for letting me read this book in return for my honest opinion. The Silent Dead will be published on 19 November 2015.