By Sabina Clarke
Flynn Berry, an Edgar Award-winning author of Under The Harrow has woven a spellbinding tale with her latest novel Northern Spy- a riveting thriller set in Northern Ireland in the midst of ‘The Troubles.’
The story begins at a languid pace in a comfortable domestic setting in a sleepy village called Greyabbey---the last place you would expect any connection to violence or terrorism.
We are introduced to the narrator Tessa a producer for the BBC who is totally involved with her year old baby boy Finn –busy juggling both roles.
The other main character is her sister Marian a paramedic by profession who has recently been identified as a member of the IRA by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the PSNI.
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How Tessa goes from being an innocent bystander to gradually becoming lured by her sister Marian into a small role and then being recruited into being a full-fledged member of the IRA and embroiled in working as an informer is fascinating.
What adds to the mystery is how someone so ordinary can be gradually lured into embracing a totally new and dangerous identity and be willing to risk everything –including her own child.
Berry is masterful in creating atmosphere and suspense. Her language is lyrical, descriptive and precise. She chooses just the right words.
The story reaches its pinnacle of tension and intrigue which has been steadily and effectively building throughout when she is fixing breakfast for baby Finn in her kitchen and spots “two men in black ski masks standing on the other side of the garden wall.”
And from here the drama escalates to a fever pitch.
Berry succeeds in a very daunting task with this novel. She maintains a delicate balance incorporating such powerful factual material about the intricacies of The Troubles and the machinations and insider facts about how the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the British Secret Forces, the MI 5 operate.
This is complex material that in less skillful hands could be overpowering and come off as amateurish.
Northern Spy By Flynn Berry
New York, New York
Sabina has also co-authored a play debuting in Philadelphia, along with Thom Nickels - Who Killed Thomas Merton. It can be seen on sunday, September 26, 2021 at 3pm at the Commodore John Barry Club, aka, The Irish Center, 6815 Emlen St., Philadelphia, PA 19119, 215-843-8051. Tix $20. Doors open at 2pm followed by wine and cheese reception.
Tracing the Nucleus of a Play…
By Sabina Clarke
As many people did , I read Thomas Merton in the 1960's not connected to any college studies rather just reading on my own-Thoughts in Solitude-Seeds of Contemplation-No Man Is An Island---etcetera.
I felt that Merton's spirituality was real and very relatable --a former sinner now monk.
And when died in 1968, I like many others and perhaps the general public did not question the circumstances of his death.
Mainstream media was not challenged then as it is now; also TV newscasters like Huntley & Brinkley and Walter Cronkite were unimpeachable; they were imbued with an air of authority and character--their integrity unquestioned—they were trusted.
So we readily accepted the narrative that Merton was staying in a ramshackle hotel with few amenities and died by electrocution—he was known to be very clumsy; so the narrative made sense --essentially making him responsible for his own death.
Then in the mid 1980's I began to question the circumstances of his death-thinking perhaps he was murdered by the Catholic Church for his pull to Eastern mysticism and the Dalai Lama-a dialogue the Church was not eager to embrace at that time. Perhaps naively I called the Abbey in Gethsemane and got nowhere and moved on and put Merton aside.
Then around the mid 1990's, Merton was resurrected in my consciousness and I considered the possibility that his views and outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War (later read that he was warned by his Abbot and by the Vatican to stop writing against the Vietnam War and also about the dangers of nuclear war) might have made him a likely target for assassination—remembering the assassinations of JFK and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King-all men of peace.
And now so many years later, perhaps by fate or serendipity and a mutual interest in Merton, local writer Thom Nickels and I are collaborating on this play about Merton-“Rendezvous in Bangkok….Who Killed Thomas Merton” ..- a maiden voyage for both of us.
We moved pretty quickly on this and hope we succeed in raising even more questions about the monk who dared to go against the war machine and may have paid the price with his life.