Anyone who appreciates excellent investigative reporting, people who are intrigued by true crime, anyone who is interested in the Troubles.
In a nutshell:
Investigative journalist Keefe uses the disappearance of widow and mother of 10 Jean McConville in the early 70s to explore the Troubles, focusing primarily on the Republican fight.
N/A (Audio book)
Why I chose it:
I find the Troubles to be an absolutely fascinating part of history. And they are being discussed a bit more often now, as the Good Friday Agreement is at risk due to Brexit.
For some reason, I have always found Ireland to be interesting. I’ve visited the Republic multiple times, and also spent time in the North, including in Belfast and Derry, where I visited the Museum of Free Derry. I was even accepted to a Masters program in Belfast where I planned to focus my studies on The Troubles, though ultimately I chose another path. I’ve read many books on the topic, and most have been emotive and intriguing, but none have been as well-written and fascinating as this one.
The book feels almost like a crime novel, but it’s about real people. Jane McConville was a widow with ten children, living in the Catholic area of Belfast in the early 1970s, when a group came and took her away. She was never seen again. Her story is the through-line we keep revisiting as Keefe explores some of the major players in the Republican fight for Irish independence in the North of Ireland. Dolours Price is the other main focus of the book, and her story of serving in the violent Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) is much of what keeps the book together.
Keefe explores how Price enlisted in the Provisional IRA (membership in which was and remains a crime) and carried out attacks, including the bombings in London in March 1973, and then engaged in a hunger strike after her conviction in an attempt to be recognized as a political prisoner and returned to Ireland. Keefe follows Gerry Adams as well, who has always claimed he was never a member of the IRA, but who clearly was very high up within the organization.
The book explores how the IRA disappeared some individuals, such as Jane McConville, and the impact that had on their families. But it also looks at the evolution of the movement from a violent one to one that embraced politics, through to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. It then asks the question – what now? Price herself asks that question repeatedly, as she wonders what everything she did in her youth meant, given that the North of Ireland remains part of the UK.
Another intriguing part of the book is how the Belfast Project, which was housed at Boston College, plays a part in solving the McConville mystery. The Project was where individuals secretly recorded their experiences of the Troubles, with the promise that their recordings wouldn’t be released until after their deaths (spoiler: that didn’t happen). The goal was to build an archive of recollections before those with first-hand knowledge died.
I got the audio book version, and it was nearly 15 hours long but ultimately worth it, though I think a physical version would be just as good. Keefe is brilliant at spinning together tons of information without losing his reader.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: