By Mike Hudson
INHERITANCE, by Keith Baker. William Morrow. 278 pp. $24.
The year is 2017 and for all intents and purposes Northern Ireland is a kinder, gentler place. Most of the arms caches held by the paramilitaries on both sides have been found and confiscated. The RUC has been replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, a fully integrated Protestant-Catholic organization concerned for the most part with the eradication of Belfast’s burgeoning drug gangs.
The worst of the hard men dating back to the late and unlamented sectarian war have been given passports and allowed to emigrate to America, where new lives and opportunities await.
While still technically a part of Great Britain, the country is now ruled by the Northern Ireland commission, a group made up of local elected officials as well as representatives from Britain and the Irish Republic. The British Army is gone for good, and M15 and M16 have been combined under the warm and fuzzy banner of the National Security Service. Business is booming, and the Troubles are but a distant memory.
Everything seems to be coming up roses, but, as author Keith Baker writes in this gripping new suspense novel, "Nothing was what it appeared to be; everything was a lie."
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There are, for instance, old scores to be settled, retribution to be had. And what of the leading lights of this new order? What were they doing 20 years earlier and to what lengths will they go to cover it up?
In a 1997 interview on these pages, Pete Hamill predicted that it would be decades before the IRA cease-fire and the efforts of Sen. George Mitchell would lead to a final end to all hostilities in the North. That theme is explored at length in "Inheritance."
The author of this thriller served as head of news and current affairs for the BBC in Belfast, and his knowledge — both of the geography and politics of the region — serves him well here.
In Baker’s view, the Irish of 2017 will still burn turf in their fireplaces, drink Jameson or Guinness and sail back and forth aboard the Belfast ferry. About the only concessions made to the future here are a proliferation of cell phones, the presence of virtual reality games in the corners of otherwise traditional pubs and an advanced CD-ROM technology that takes the place of much of today’s media.
The story concerns one Jack McCallan, a former SAS man living in London, who returns home to find that his father, an ex-RUC man, has been killed in what appears to be an accidental gas explosion.
Unexpectedly, Jack learns he has inherited a small fortune from the old man, who turns out to be not quite what he seemed to his son. Looking into his father’s involvements with a pretty young woman who lives up the road, an old woman who has recently died in Dublin, a shady business partner and the local priest, he suddenly finds his own life in danger. Ultimately, the various conspiracies overlap, plunging Jack into a miasma of paranoia that has him doubting his own grip on reality. The bombings and assassinations around him multiply, paralleling those that were thought to be a part of the distant past in the North.
Unlike most books of this Belfast potboiler genre, explicit violence takes a backseat to explicit sex. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but its novelty seems worthy of note.
Keith Baker has done a nice job here of building suspense and then delivering the goods. The prose is taut and workmanlike, with believable dialogue driving the story along.