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13 March 1997 Edition

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New in print: The Wrong Man

No place for happy endings

The Wrong Man
By Danny Morrison
Published by Mercier Press
Price £7.99

This is Danny Morrison's third - and best - novel. It is the story of an IRA unit in West Belfast in the period after the 1981 hunger strikes and of how they are betrayed by an informer in their midst.

Written as a thriller, the book begins superbly with the suspected informer's interrogation, and continues as a long flashback. The final chapters again switch about in time as the story of who, when and how is resolved- I felt it was a structure which needs some more clues in the text of those final chapters to signal when the action is taking place.

Like all good thrillers, action and dialogue predominate. There are few descriptive passages or diversions to slow the pace which makes for a tight, disciplined piece of work which keeps the pages turning.

But it is more than an action thriller. At its heart it is the story of a group of people who bend, burn out or are destroyed by the pressure of life at the cutting edge of the armed struggle. Volunteers' relationships turn cold and crumble in a bleak but well-told picture of the end of a marriage. All the characters, including the women, whether Volunteers or Volunteers' partners, are portrayed with an acute eye for detail and a rare sympathy.

If I have a quibble it is that we see the motivation of the main character, Raymond Massey, largely through setpiece speeches. It is difficult to imagine, from reading the book, what would drive someone, after years in prison, to lead a life of such unrelenting hardship and tragedy.

That said, this is an accomplished effort from Danny.

By Brian Campbell

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