Prison break

Tense, gritty tale of ex-IRA man brings life and love lessons

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

IN Septem­ber of 1983, 38 Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army in­mates car­ried out a brazen es­cape from the max­i­mum-se­cu­rity Maze prison near Belfast, cre­at­ing shock­waves through­out the U.K. and North­ern Ire­land. Most had been con­victed of mur­der or pos­ses­sion of ex­plo­sives, and were un­ques­tion­ingly de­scribed in the press as ter­ror­ists. This sus­pense­ful and im­pres­sively well-re­searched fic­tion­al­ized ac­count of the Great Es­cape from Long Kesh (as the Maze was known lo­cally) never uses that word. As a look at the men and women in­volved in “the Trou­bles,” it does pose ques­tions about the di­vid­ing lines that are so of­ten and so heav­ily drawn be­tween peo­ple. Pa­trick Tay­lor him­self was born and re­ceived his med­i­cal train­ing in North­ern Ire­land, but af­ter sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence be­gan in 1969, he and his fam­ily moved to Canada. Here he taught medicine (at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba for a time), and pub­lished a wide body of re­search lit­er­a­ture. He now lives in Bri­tish Columbia. Now and in the Hour of Our Death is the con­tin­u­a­tion of Tay­lor’s novel Pray for Us Sin­ners (both ti­tles re­fer to lines in the Ro­man Catholic prayer Hail Mary), in which read­ers meet Davy McCutcheon, a 40-ish IRA bomb-maker who be­comes dis­il­lu­sioned with the cause. Fiona Ka­vanagh, the paci­fist ele­men­tary school teacher he lives with and abid­ingly loves, has forced him to choose be­tween her and his vow to help ban­ish the Bri­tish from North­ern Ire­land. At the out­set of this sec­ond novel, Davy is nine years into a 40-year sen­tence at Long Kesh and Fiona has moved to Van­cou­ver. Davy de­cides to join the prison break in the hope of join­ing Fiona, and is pres­sured again to com­mit the vi­o­lence he has turned his back on. It isn’t nec­es­sary to read the books in order, but read­ing the first one af­ter­wards will lessen its sus­pense. Its main plot lines are sum­ma­rized, per­haps once or twice too of­ten, in the sec­ond. Hard-hit­ting and gritty, these two “Trou­bles” nov­els ap­peared prior to Tay­lor’sT best­selling Ir­ish Coun­try se­ries, light-li hearted fic­tion about a ru­ral Ir­ish med­i­cal prac­tice in the early ’60s. These ear­lier works are now be­ing reis­sued. What the au­thor ex­cels at is draw­ing out the story for max­i­mum ef­fect. He re­peat­edly builds ten­sion dur­ing the es­cape and its af­ter­math, then abruptly turns his at­ten­tions for a while to si­mul­ta­ne­ous events. Cal and Erin, a brother-and-sis­ter unit of the Pro­vi­sional IRA, pre­pare a hid­ing place for the fugi­tives near their farm. Their des­per­ately trapped hired hand, Sammy, is only help­ing the cause be­cause of his love for the unattain­able Erin. The novel’s char­ac­ters are fas­ci­nat­ing, and it’s Sammy who comes clos­est to tak­ing on the flesh and blood found in other clas­sic books about the Trou­bles, such as Leon Uris’s Trin­ity or Bernard Maclaverty’s Cal. Mean­while, Fiona’s peace­ful but or­di­nary life in Van­cou­ver ap­pears idyl­lic in com­par­i­son, a point that can­not be over­stated. Whether Fiona and Davy ever meet again is for the reader to dis­cover; Tay­lor’s point is that the or­di­nar­i­ness of a good life and love can con­quer hate.

Ur­sula Fuchs is a reg­is­tered nurse in Win­nipeg.

Now and in the Hour

of Our Death

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