Northern Ireland’s Troubles cast a long shadow

woman of stateReview: Vivien Horler

Woman of State, by Simon Berthon (Harper Collins/ Jonathan Ball)

Maire Anne McCartney is a clever Catholic girl growing up in Belfast and doing her A-levels. Her family have high hopes for her. But she has a Provo brother and a Provo boyfriend, so there is an inevitability about the fact that she is recruited for an IRA mission. It’s a one-off, she is promised, and there will be no violence.

But they lied, and she is forced to flee alone to Dublin to start a new life for herself. It is lonely and tough, but she makes a sort of life studying law at university.

In the library she meets David, a posh English post-graduate student. She has kept herself to herself for years, but she and David find each other irresistible. Until David disappears.

Twenty-five years later, Maire has reinvented herself as a successful human rights lawyer based in London. She has a new name, Anne-Marie Gallagher, and political ambitions. When she becomes Minister of State for security and immigration, one’s heart sinks – surely the notorious British press will dig up her past?

Around the same time Belfast police get an anonymous tip-off, and take it seriously because the messenger uses an old password from the Troubles. In a remote field they find a body buried in a shallow grave.

Detective Chief Inspector Jon Carne is put on the case, and his investigation soon leads to Gallagher, now living in an elegant glass-fronted flat with a view down the River Thames.

Can she keep her life and her job? And is the body she finds hanging in a garage near the Thames’ south bank, the body of a man from her past, meant to give her a message?

This is an excellent thriller. Simon Berthon, a Bafta and Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker, has written a taut and intriguing story. His settings are carefully evoked, and his characters believable. I’m hoping he follows up this first novel with more thrillers featuring Jon Carne.


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