Anois ar theacht an tSamhraidh: Ireland, Colonialism and the Unfinished Revolution by Robbie McVeigh and Bill Rolston (Beyond the Pale Books, £19:95) In order to civilise you, I must kill you. To make the killing worthwhile, I will expropriate your land and steal your resources. To make your life better, I will enslave you and demand you speak my language.
Whatever You Say, Say Nothing by Gilles Peress, and Annals of the North by Gilles Peress and Chris Klatell (£300). Published by Steidl. I can see the beads of sweat on the courier’s forehead as he hauls a large box from his van to my door. A grunt, and he drops it gratefully at my feet. On the side, in large letters, it says: “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.” I am baffled. I’ve been expecting a book with that title, but there must be some mistake. This is… well, what?
The Woman who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist by Anthony M. Amore. Pegasus €27.95. pp272 I NEVER met Rose Dugdale, but I’ll never forget how one of the men in her life kept me waiting for a fortnight. It was October 1975 in Monasterevin, County Kildare, where Eddie Gallagher, a maverick republican from Donegal, was holding Dr Tiede Herrema, a Dutch industrialist, captive in the upstairs bedroom of a house in a council estate at St Evin’s Park.
IF you’re looking for details of how the 1984 bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton was set and triggered, you’ve come to the wrong book. In this memoir, the author Pat Magee, who set the bomb, makes it clear he’s not going to divulge that sort of information.
Gordon S Dickson, Des Pond: Special Agent. London: Austin Macauley Publishers, 2021 THE clue is in the title – Des Pond: Special Agent. He’s an active member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but he’s a down-market version. “Desmond Walter Percivale Pond, aged thirty-five, was a thin, weedy-looking individual with a longish nose (at school he was unkindly nick-named Pinocchio) on which perched a pair of black-rimmed spectacles.” The book opens in a maximum security prison, where five Russians arrested for spying were awaiting trial, until someone managed to poison them all. The prison governor is furious that this could happen, and the chief prison officer, who has a heavy cold, tries to explain: ”‘I hab obbered every dell an’ prisonber to be searched, an’ interrogated da prisonbers dat is, not da dells, dir’. He blew his nose noisily. Other officers edged away as far as possible.”The scene switches to 10 Downing Street, “Where is Agent Pond, Darling?’ asked the Prime Minister. I will have to stop calling him that. It sounds a bit too personal, she thought.” The Darling in question is Sir Leonard Darling, Head of MI5. He assigns Agent Des Pond to the job of discovering who poisoned the Russian prisoners. In no time Pond is in St Petersburg with a feared female Russian, who is working with a group of dissidents intent on liberating a grouping of small nations: the Coalition for the Liberation of Ostvia, Dachnya, Havnia, Ovnaria, Pannonia, Phasnaviz, Entrovia and Rostnovia. CLODHOPPER for short. Agent Pond meets the group, and being a supreme card-manipulator plays cards with them and wins a hugely expensive Rolls Royce parked outside the door. Then he gets hit on the head, recovers and goes in search of the Great Ras, the leader of the dissidents and believed to be the reincarnation of Rasputin. After much chasing and double-cross, the great Ras is caught up with and unmasked for the fraud he is. Would you believe it? He doesn’t care about CLODHOPPER – he’s in it for the money! Quelle surprise. Back at Downing Street the Prime Minister has got a divorce and gets married to Sir Leonard Stephen Darling; Pond gets married to a fellow-agent called Sally. “Two sets of identical twin Ponds followed in the next couple of years: two boys and two girls. Fortunately the girls looked like their mother! The boys looked like Pond!” All this, complete with exclamation marks, is stuffed into the last two pages. The author never misses a chance to wring half-laughs out of any half-situation, starting with the chief prison officer’s cold, then the No 10 Downing Street cat mauling visitors, and ending with the burst of weddings and identical twins x 2. The pace is kept breathless by really short chapters and switches of location from Istanbul to St Petersburg to No 10 Downing Street. And the PM, of course, is a very busy woman. “I have an important Cabinet meeting in ten minutes. The NHS financing has raised its head again, and there is some fishy business going on up in Scotland. That dreadful Sally Trout woman again.” This is a spy thriller for those who find regular spy thrillers too frightening. Think ‘Carry On Spying’ and you’ve got the flavour – slapstick, shameless word play, and of course happily ever afters. The book brims with good humour of the broadest possible kind. The chapters are very very short, the entire book runs to 127 pages total. To those bowed down by the weight of a Covid-ridden world, Des Pond Special Agent offers a short burst of Benny-Hill-type escapism.
JAZ McCann writes very well. The reader is quickly drawn into his world. From the opening sentences of his prologue, Jaz paints the sights and sounds, the emotions, shocks, excitement, sadness, smells and the savage brutality and amazing horrors of his 6000 Days of incarceration, mostly in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. He also makes us witness to the incredible courage, vision, commitment, solidarity, idealism, generosity, quirkiness, anger, native contrariness, humour, comradeship and stubbornness of the political prisoners. 6000 Days is an important and significant contribution to the history of the Irish penal experience, in line with Jeremiah O-Donovan Rossa’s classic Prison Life or Irish Rebels in English Prisons and other historical penal narratives. I have long had a view that we republicans need to write our own histories. Others should do likewise. Including from a unionist or even in this case a prison officer’s point of view. By setting all these narratives together the weave of our collective history – as lived in cities or rural Ireland by women, workers, the poor, by combatants, victims and, in this case by our political prisoners – becomes a shared history.
No Pope Here! That was a slogan I was familiar with growing up. Who knows as a child I might even have shouted it with my mates. There are many who still stand by the sentiment. So, I can hear you asking, and I hear some of you louder than others, what is a Presbyterian minister doing reading about the Pope? Well, here is the thing. I do not only think that Let Us Dream is only helpful for a Presbyterian, whose vows tell him not to refuse light from any quarter, but I think this is a document of social transformation that needs read and discussed by Jews and Muslims and Hindus and agnostics and atheists. It is a powerful challenge for all of us. “When are we getting back to normal?” “I don’t want to go back to the old normal.” “What will the new normal be like?” These are all questions that I have heard, even said over this past strange year.