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Dublin Cloak-and-Dagger

Tue, 06/18/2024 - 14:43
Flynn Berry
Sylvie Rosokoff

“Trust Her”
Flynn Berry
Viking, $30

“Trust Her,” the story of two Belfast sisters, Tessa and Marian, who’ve made new lives for themselves in Dublin after informing on the Irish Republican Army, is a taut thriller detailing women trying to protect their children from the thugs who were once a part of their lives.

Flynn Berry’s novel centers on Tessa. Her sister was involved with the I.R.A. for years, and Tessa was not, but she did share information on I.R.A. plans with a handler from the British security agency MI5.

As the book begins, it is a few years after Tessa and Marian divulged the secrets. They have new identities in Dublin. Tessa is the divorced mother of 4-year-old Finn. Marian has a husband and a baby named Saoirse.

Tessa had produced a radio show for the BBC, and now works at the Irish Observer newspaper in Dublin. She struggles at times with her new life in a new city. “I’ve new friends here, but they’re not my mates, not yet,” she says. “Mates piss in front of you. I remember my old mate Clodagh dropping onto a toilet in a pub stall without even breaking conversation. None of my new friends would do that, not yet. Sometimes the thought turns me grief-stricken, that I might never again have the sort of friend who will reach over and take a sip of my drink without asking first.”

On a hot summer day, Tessa is eager for a swim. Driving to Wicklow, she is kidnapped by I.R.A. soldiers and taken to a remote bungalow. She’s handcuffed, threatened, and beaten, slowly realizing Ireland and Northern Ireland are too small for someone to disappear in. Her kidnappers urge her to reach out to her old MI5 contact, Eamonn, and attempt to get him to turn on the spy agency and work with the I.R.A. With the goons threatening the lives of her loved ones, Tessa agrees.

Eamonn responds to Tessa’s cloak-and-dagger dispatch, and the two have a series of meetings at a safe house in Dublin. Tessa realizes she has feelings for the mysterious MI5 agent, then discerns he’s not exactly who he claims to be.

Ms. Berry offers a unique street-level view of Dublin, avoiding the tourist spots in favor of the byways the residents walk and drive down. It’s not always a flattering look at the city. “The Liffey looks greasy and gray today as I cross above it on the footbridge,” Tessa says. “Over Dublin, the light is flat and muddy, the sort of stark light that picks out the marks on skin, so all the faces coming toward me on the bridge look wrecked in one way or another, and I’m sure mine does, too.”

Speaking of Dublin waterways, the rocky swimming spot known as the Forty Foot was the setting for happy moments in both the Disney+ special “Bono & the Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, With Dave Letterman” (the U2 guys wrote “Forty Foot Man” for him) and “Bad Sisters” on Apple TV+. It hosts a far more unsettling scene in “Trust Her.”

Ms. Berry, the author of three previous novels, “Under the Harrow,” “A Double Life,” and “Northern Spy,” has done her research on terrorism in Ireland and Northern Ireland. She notes how the weeks before a cease-fire are often the most violent, with both sides trying to soften up the other before the negotiations begin. 

The book depicts an active I.R.A. on both sides of the border, which may surprise some readers, 26 years after the peacekeeping Good Friday Agreement was hammered out.

Tessa is an intriguing character: loving to her family members, including Marian and her mother, but with some grit, too. As much as “Trust Her” is about the violent ways the I.R.A. fights for freedom, it is about a mother and child and the love they share. It takes everything Tessa has to keep her son safe from the menacing men who watch her.

“Trust Her” packs a good amount of punch for a book weighing in at 291 pages. Ms. Berry probably could’ve gone a bit deeper on Tessa, including her informing days, what prompted her ex-husband to cheat on her, and other tribulations that make her who she is in Dublin.

And the book deserves a snappier title. Should we trust Tessa? Of course, she’s rock solid. Should we trust Marian? Probably, though she’s got some secrets. Does “Trust Her” work as a title? I fear it is too generic.

Nonetheless, this is an entertaining read, with a tough, savvy, and engaging main character, and a current of anxiety coursing through it, right until the very end.


Michael Malone, a regular book reviewer for The Star, has written for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times.

Flynn Berry has spent summers in Amagansett since 1990. “Trust Her” comes out on June 25.

 

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