Literature from Northern Ireland: By Jaysus you had some eshcape: Mike Petty takes a course in Troubles thrillers and finds much terrible beauty

I'VE NEVER been to Northern Ireland, so I'm prepared to believe almost anything of the place, except that it's the haven of peace described by one I Paisley Snr (in some way related, I dare say) in the latest edition of Expression, the American Express magazine. A 'fabulous place to holiday and relax', he says, 'a country bursting with festivals and tradition, fishing, sailing, golf courses, superb architecture and fine cuisine'. Although I'm somewhat reminded of the Mayor in Jaws trying to get everyone back on the beach, it's clearly not Mr Paisley Jnr's fault if my prevailing impression is of a country bursting with psychopaths and demagogues, hand-wringing priests and weeping women. That's what a course of Troubles thrillers will do for you.

The line of the Troubles thriller goes back through F L Green's wartime Odd Man Out to Liam O'Flaherty's The Informer (1925), both now better remembered as films by Carol Reed and John Ford respectively. The current leader of the pack is probably Gerald Seymour, author of Harry's Game, Field of Blood and The Journeyman Tailor (Fontana, pounds 4.99), by which Douglas Hurd was 'not only gripped, but unexpectedly moved'. It's curious that Graham Greene never seems to have been tempted by the subject, but the novels of M S Power (the Children of the North trilogy, Come the Executioner), with their seductive mixture of spry humour and instinctive, almost subliminal sympathy for human frailty, fill that particular gap more than adequately.

A recent article in the Guardian spoke disparagingly of 'Weekend Troubles Writers', who fly into Belfast for a few days, go home and get everything wrong. You couldn't accuse the present bunch of that; they've done their time. Peter Cunningham, author of Who Trespass Against Us (Century, pounds 14.99) is a former Dublin accountant and commodity trader (fittingly, his book is mostly set in the Republic). The General (Sinclair-Stevenson, pounds 14.99) is by Patrick Coogan, whose Belfast background includes both Loyalists and Republicans, and his family has suffered at the hands of both (he rose to the rank of Major in the British Army into the bargain). And Richard Crawford, author of Fall When Hit (Heinemann, pounds 15.99) is the son of an RUC detective, and is a civil servant in Belfast. So all three have a certain sort of authenticity in common, if not much else - certainly no golf or fine cuisine, although an artery-buster called an Ulster fry crops up regularly.

Who Trespass Against Us clocks up a high score on the TBI, or Terrible Beauty Index, which is a measurement of the readiness of characters to invoke either Yeats or the Lost Kings of Erin at moments of stress. The daughter of Adam Coleraine, a highly placed British civil servant, is killed by an IRA bomb. It so happens that he has had sight of a secret Irish government report which gives him a clue to the identity of the bomber, so, maddened with grief, he steals the report and travels to a Belfast monastery, having first taken the precaution of becoming a monk at a seminary in Rome. Fearful of the catastrophe which would ensue if Coleraine fell into the wrong hands, HMG appeals to the Irish for help, and the report's author is dispatched for a bit of the old cat-and-mouse and if-you're- caught-we-deny-everything. Pausing only to down a 'sweet half moon of creamy bitterness' (that's Guinness to you) and to bed the Minister of Justice, who is beautiful with her glasses off ('At last we spun an exhausted tenderness that was as pure and ephemeral as the slow first light creeping over winter Connemara'), Brian sets off in hot pursuit of Adam, who before the climactic shootout (there is always one of those) achieves a climax of a different sort with an IRA Angel of Death called Nona. The tension is somewhat undermined by Cunningham's tendency to blather on, and his ingenious attempts to render accents both Southern ('By Jaysus you had some eshcape, dough . . . Lie shtil, lie shtil . . . You're on a dthrip . . .') and Northern ('Atrayshus . . . Make ye wanta crey . . . the creadil to the greeiv . . .') are wildly distracting.

The General would have scored a low TBI but for a spectacular late burst on the rails from Gerry Madden, PIRA leader, as he decides to go for broke: 'I will rekindle the flames of Yeats's Terrible Beauty . . . I will drive the cause to utter destruction or total victory.' In fact Madden is being manipulated to utter destruction by another Angel of Death called Siobhan, who with a cunning cocktail of psychological warfare, heroin and oral sex has got him to the point where he doesn't know his Ardoyne from his Enniskillen ('Siobhan, my love, it's time for bed. Come and wrap yourself around me. I have a lot to think of'), and she can take over. Her fiendish plan has been spotted, however, by The General, another Angel of Death, but this time one of ours.

Charlotte Aitken was born to command, and determined to be the British army's first female General. This she achieves by eliminating the PIRA with the aid of unlimited firepower and plenty of female intuition. The political will is supplied by the Prime Minister, fighting for his political life after Madden's go-for-broke campaign has almost polished off Prince Charles, gunned down dozens of unarmed coppers on the streets of the mainland, assassinated the Chief of the General Staff, shot down the RAF's last Lancaster bomber, and - the ultimate outrage - blown away the Editor of the Sun. (Hard to suppress a guilty little spasm of glee at this point.)

Like any other brass hat, of course, Charlotte has inner needs - she's all woman, in fact, embarking on a career-threatening affair with an NCO and being serviced in ways undreamt of by Queen's Regulations ('Never seen a naked lady before, Colour-Sar'nt?' 'You're a hell of a woman, Major.'). All ends happily, with the PIRA neutralised, the Colour-Sar'nt promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and no longer a social embarrassment, and the General giving birth to twins. A very peculiar book, this, but definitely one for anyone who's ever wondered why the Government doesn't do something about Northern Ireland.

Fall When Hit has a TBI of zero - there's no time. Nor is there time for side-trips to see the PM, late-night whisky sessions between Five and Six, meanwhile-in-Libya, or all the usual folderol. This is one damn thing after another, in which Garrett Kearns, a part-time UDR captain, has a car crash, shoots an undercover man, and finds himself up to his neck in something nastily Kafkaesque. It's all because of a cock-up, of course, in which a young civil servant got to hear a tape she shouldn't have heard. (If there's one thing that characterises most Troubles thrillers, it's a bottomless cynicism about the competence and motives of HMG.) The mayhem is appalling, the hero apparently indestructible, his sleazy MI5 nemesis satisfyingly horrible, the writing lean and mean. This is a thriller that actually thrills.

Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain