The first of these writers, M.S. Power, has a searing metaphor to describe the effect of Ireland on certain people, those native to it and others: nailed to the place, they end up as in a crucifixion. 'You and I are a crucified breed,' says one leading terrorist (half-way through his latest novel) to another. 'Just set foot on the soil of Ireland and you'll be crucified to it forever,' thinks another Power character, an honourable English colonel (retired), recalling the words of a high-up republican, or - it may be - an RUC inspector. Ireland - or, to be specific, Northern Ireland - has these people in its deadly grip. Lonely the man without heroes is the second volume of Power's projected trilogy entitled 'Children of the North'. Out of the north - to reverse an old Gaelic saying - comes the utmost despair. The Power novels are set in Belfast, but a Belfast deprived of every feature that gives it its character. As in the ordinary thriller, it's become the scene of opposing stratagems, nothing more. Such books contain no sense of life going on in the usual way, in the teeth of military and paramilitary activity. Some authors - Power and Maurice Leitch, for example - clearly have a symbolic design in excluding the social and domestic from their work. They mean to stress the balefulness of what's been brought about, by isolating the deformation of life in the city. (Authors in pursuit of a cruder kind of drama tend to lumber their characters with sets of convictions, among other things, resembling the bag of swag borne about by a comic-strip burglar.) With this approach, though, what's lost - along with certain refinements of characterisation - is the atmosphere in which violent measures are condoned and enacted.
LRB 5 June 1986 | PDF Download