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Easter, Smoke and Mirrors

John Benacre
Book 1: Easter, Smoke and Mirrors
Book 2: Shape, Shine and Shadow
Book 3: McCann

These three books are reviewed as one piece. They should be read in the order given and the review refers to the Kindle edition.

First, to declare an interest. “John Benacre” is a nom de plume and the author is personally known to this reviewer. He is a retired soldier, decorated for gallantry and has a long and illustrious career behind him, with particular and extensive experience in Northern Ireland and the complex world of CT generally.

Benacre has crafted a complex and compelling narrative which spans the Irish Troubles from World War Two to Good Friday 2016 and beyond. His experience shows in the insight he has into the thinking behind militant force Irish Republicanism and the romantic and idealistic attraction it has held for generations of young (and perhaps not-so-young) Irishmen.

He has resisted the temptation to produce a novel or novels about the Army and the Provos (and he could have written a cracker), preferring to take a more strategic approach and produce one which could have come, mainly, from today’s headlines.

The narrative revolves around a plot by a successor group to the Provos, formed specifically to keep the flame of armed Republicanism alight as the mainstream moved into the peace process and the dissidents muddied the waters, in order to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising with a massive mainland ‘spectacular’ on a truly incredible scale, coupled with simultaneous attacks on ‘hard’ targets in the Province the same day.

The successor grouping is controlled by a group of IRA godfathers, who have exercised influence over the Republican movement for many years and the ‘spectacular’ is to be carried out by a cadre of ‘clean skins’, raised, trained and nurtured over many years to be available for a single, unexpected blow.

The narrative switches easily between the lead clean skin – a remarkable individual with truly exceptional experience in Afghanistan, Chechenya, Kosovo and Bosnia (as a ‘loan player’ with Sunni militants), the godfathers and the stalwarts of the Security Service in London and Northern Ireland. The tension is maintained throughout, the various efforts made to counter and execute surveillance are neatly explained and the individuals are well-realised and credible.

The narrative rocks along, across the first two books, which detail the events leading up to and past Good Friday and is also tidily done in the third, which is best described as a series of vignettes covering the recruitment and training of the lead clean skin and bringing out some extra detail from the period covered by the main narrative.

All three books are self-published and show some of the typical signs of the phenomenon. They would have benefited from a jolly good editing and the writing sometimes stutters and switches tone, tense and person in an awkward manner. The sex scenes are entertaining but sometimes slightly intrusive and the author should perhaps review his prose for cliché and hackneyed allegory and simile in a new edition. It is not a major issue – his prose is generally clear and workmanlike, but, stylistically, as it is so clear, the infelicities rather leap off the page at the reader.

That said, the books are a rollicking good read. While some of the geopolitical background strains the reader’s credulity (for example, a key plot point is support given to Daesh aka the Islamic State by a faction within the Iranian government), it is this reviewer’s suspicion that the author was hesitant about presenting a more credible Sunni supporter for the Daesh ambitions in case doing so might be a cause of embarrassment to HMG. He himself, when questioned, suggests that a touch of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ is required of a professional intelligencer reading his work!

This and works like it are precisely why the ability to self-publish on Amazon is a great thing. Buy these books, read them and keep an eye out for more from this author – he is finding his voice and, while his storytelling may improve, the stories themselves are very well done.

Easter, Smoke and Mirrors Amazon product

Shape, Shine and Shadow Amazon product

McCann Amazon product
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