Dark Dawn: A Book Review

Dark Dawn: by Matt Maguire

I seen this book while waiting in an airport lobby, seen the blurb mention Belfast, and so just bought it without any prior knowledge. As a novel and fiction it is a good read. Exciting, good characters, a move away from the old stories and bringing in the reality of life in Belfast in this era.  For a debut novel it is pretty good. However there are things I don’t understand. The main murder victim of the book is found in the new docks waterfront area. Why is there a picture of a lower Shankill road estate on the front cover? Having said that I enjoy the accuracy of the book as opposed to the book ‘Cathedral’, an IRA story based in New York which talked about an IRA safe house in the Shankill area of Belfast (needed a bit more research.)

The book is based around D.S. O Neill of the new PSNI. A character under pressure from the start.  A hero.  Quite an insight into a modern day detective in N. Ireland.  A body is found on a building site and it is his job to solve the case but with pressure coming from the top. There are a number of story lines in the book including the 2 young hoodies from west Belfast which I admit I enjoyed. Many aspects of the characters are very true to life. Another character that stands out is Joe Lynch. Ex-republican prisoner with unresolved issues.  Old school and not happy with new school. Has decency but with a violent streak when he needs it.  The baddie of the tale is ‘Spender’ who McGuire paints as a real character that you would love to smack if you met him in real life. Are property developers a bit like this?

I always try and guess out an ending when reading a book and sometimes it is obvious where a story will end. That did not happen here. I was surprised by the turn of events at the end. And I’m not giving away the twist.  What I want to comment on is the reflection that the book gives, or will give someone, someday, on the reality of today.

I have read hundreds of books on the troubles both past and present including fact and fiction.  This is interesting for the introduction of new elements into our society. The rise of the gangster, the role and plight of the political ex-prisoner,  workers from eastern Europe, the hooding culture along with punishments. (I thought Mc Guire could go a bit deeper into the brutality of such attacks.)

All events sit inside a context. For years Belfast was riding high on peace,  expansion,’ loadsa’ money and the good times.  Then came the crash of the recent years.  A sobering up of where we want to be and where we actually are. The book captures a small part of the financial backdrop to life and the developing N.Ireland.

There is a cameo appearance for loyalists from the Shankill. Still a violent threat, which the police use, to intimidate a young catholic man. A bit stereotypical and clichéd.

One of the storylines that I would like to see developed was Joe (the ex- prisoner) seeing a shrink. Was this a metaphor for the republican movement being psychoanalysed?  I would love to see the loyalist paramilitary family being assessed.  Can you imagine the questions. Was your father violent? Were you not loved as a child? Have you feelings of rejection?

Overall a good read and I would look out for his next book.



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