Having lived in the Irish Republic for the past forty three years, the Troubles have been a part of my life indirectly for most of it. If I had lived closer to the border, things would’ve been different, but with it being a two hour drive from our front door, most of what went on up there in my lifetime was viewed through a television screen. To this day I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve crossed the border. In that time I have only visited Belfast, Newry and the Giants Causeway, Although having watched Derry Girls on Channel 4, I’d like to go to Derry and walk its walls, but it’s a bit of a hike, being on the very north western edge of the Province. This year’s first book review is set in Derry, just after the start of the Troubles, its The Bomb Man by Andy Greenaway and was self-published in September 2021 and available on amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/BOMB-MAN-wants-other-ideas/dp/B09HFSD93P/
In Northern Ireland in 1973, the Catholics and Protestants are at war. The IRA have unleashed a bloody bombing campaign, indiscriminately killing, civilians as well as policemen and soldiers. Bomb disposal expert Dave Thomson is sent to Derry by the British army. His job is to dismantle the numerous devices planted across the city on a daily basis. One day, while on a job, he captures a young IRA bomb maker and forces him to dismantle his own bomb, when word gets back to the Republican High Command, they put a price on Thomson’s head. With a month left till his tour finishes, can Dave survive to make it safely home to his family.
One of the first things to strike me about this book and its story, was that I couldn’t at times get my head around the fact that I was reading about what people consider to be history. Even though at that time I was three, and I still feel as if it was only yesterday and some of the descriptions, such as Dave’s wife cooking him a fried breakfast each morning with lard, almost turned my stomach, although my mother probably did the same back then too.
I did like this book, especially the feeling of viewing the whole thing in my minds eye with a sepia filter, which was brought about by Greenaways writing. Nothing is colourful, it always seems to be raining and there is a gritty existence portrayed in the lives of the citizens and main characters in the book. The story is based on real events, in this case Greenaway’s dad was in the Army and served as an bomb disposal expert in Northern Ireland.
Overall It’s not as taut or on the edge of your seat as I was expecting, but it is a good read with an excellent depection of the twisted and fraught lives of those involved. Whether they be the warring factions, or their families, and the men and women of the police and armed forces, who are caught in the middle.
Another nice thing about the book, is that it comes across as very educational. If you didn’t know much about the troubles or the background to it, Greenaway gives enough detail about the spark that led to it. As well as enough of an understanding of how the British army found themselves on a steep learning curve trying to deal with or fight a Guerrilla war. For example depicted excellently in the book, is the fact that quite a lot of the modern bomb disposal techniques and equipment used today, were developed for use in Northern Ireland. Things such as the bomb suit, the cumbersome body armour worn by bomb disposal experts, to provide protection if a bomb goes off while they attempting to defuse it. Along with radio jammers, to block remote detonation signals and RPV’s(Remotely Piloted vehicles).
If I had any reservations about this book, its that at times the way the attempts on Dave’s life are thwarted, seem a bit comical. They may have been a Guerilla outfit, but at the heart of it and as seen in other parts of the book, the IRA thugs are cold blooded killers. Who will drink with you one day, but mutilate you the next, without batting an eye lid, because they might suspect you of being an informant. I was at the start expecting something similar to the 1947 film Odd Man Out starring James Mason, a real cat and mouse story, spread over the remainng days of his tour, but in the end you get a decent enough ‘will they/ won’t they tale, with a bit of drama at the end.
This is English author Andy Greenaways first novel. Based on the stories his dad told of experiences as an Amunition Technician in Northern Ireland, Andy got his dad to write them down before he passed away. Andy was born to Military parents and thus his formative years were spent in various parts of the world depending on where his father was based. He now lives in Singapore.
So, if you are looking for an educational and interesting tale of danger and intrigue set amongst the early days of The Troubles in Nortrhern Ireland, then get on to amazon and order a copy of Greenaways book.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviwers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what youn thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.