I awarded it three stars on Goodreads, but I might go as high as 3.5 on my rating if I could. NORTHERN SPY is a fast-moving, suspense novel about the troubles in Northern Ireland around the time of the 1997 ceasefire. It’s a quick read, completely plot driven, but with limited emotional connection.
Tessa and Marian are adult sisters who have always been close. Both live in Belfast. Tessa, recently divorced, works as a producer for the British Broadcasting Co. (BBC). But her son Finn is her great passion. Marian, single, is a paramedic. Both appear to maintain a safe distance from the danger related to their country’s political conflicts.
Then one day Tessa spots Marian in video footage, where Marian appears to be participating in Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorism. Figuring Marian has been kidnapped and coerced, Tessa begins her own investigation, even as local police begin questioning her about Marian’s activities. All of this happens early in the book.
WAS Marian coerced? Is she a member of the IRA? Or, could she be a government informer? What lengths will Tessa go to to protect both her sister and her son? And what happens if those two priorities conflict? These are the questions that are answered throughout the rest of the book.
I finished this book in two days. Author Flynn Berry certainly demonstrates the skills to keep me interested and wondering what was going to happen next. But at the end, though I was satisfied with the story’s conclusion, I can’t say it left much of an emotional residue. The characters are essentially two-dimensional. Despite taking lots of risks and dealing with some vicious and untrustworthy characters, things always seem to work out conveniently for both sisters. Tessa may SAY she is exhausted (with a child not sleeping through the night) but it never keeps her from her responsibilities. She always seems to have an instanteous solution when she needs childcare. Her work at the BBC never conflicts with her efforts to locate Marian. In fact, her investigation seems to be confined chiefly to Sundays, when her ex-husband has custody of their son.
If, like me, you have been or still are a working mother, you will NOT identify with Tessa’s situation. And though the author is a woman, I would bet money she has no children.
The novel did teach me more about what it was like in Northern Ireland in this time period — living with the threat of danger everyday. Overall though, I would put this solidly in the category of a good beach or airplane read.
More about the author, Flynn Berry.