When the bright and bubbly, Irish Suzy catches sight of mysterious, Arabian prince-like Hassam sitting at a table in the London hotel in which she works, she is immediately attracted to his dark intensity and foreign charm. The two are drawn together, but under a false pretence, for Hassam harbours a dark secret… one so dark, in fact, that Suzy’s life is placed in immediate jeopardy from their first encounter- though she cannot know it.
A resurrected brother, a master-manipulator, a drunken police man and a girl in love fatefully collide in this action packed crime novel, whose plot veers and turns, shocking and shocking again the disquieted reader, who can do little more than grit their teeth as the ‘bombs’ (both metaphorical, and not) are dropped, one after the other.
At the heart of the action, conflicts between Islam and Christianity, the atmosphere of British mistrust, and Muslim extremism come to head in an enthralling and powerful exploration of the ills of our present society. The ghosts of the human disasters of 9/11 and 7/7, both their victims and perpetrators, hang low over the setting and infuse the text with a vital importance and urgency. O’Brien enlightens and informs through his vivid depiction of characters who, as they converse, make us privy to the vantage points of radically different individuals, who exist even within the same sects, only separated by upbringing and experience, and who all form part of our same, one, larger society. More than condemn those who are a danger to it, O’Brien offers insight into the possible motives, and better aids our understanding of such issues centred around hate crimes and terrorism.
THE MOST FATAL THING TO DO IS SHUT OUR EYES
With the additional focus on pregnancy and motherhood, a singularly feminist perspective shines through in his text too. That fateful and final chapter, in placing the female protagonist as the ‘last man standing’ amidst the wreckage of life destroyed, and turning urgently to God, or rather, to God’s fallible messengers on earth, reminds of that end of Graham Greene’s crime novel Brighton Rock; the lone figure of Rose, seeking solace in the confession box after Pinkie’s death. In the example of Suzy, left with a child she cannot love and memories of a personal reality that have been proven as fanciful as dreams, O’Brien allows for a further breakdown of a stereotype- that which hinges on the perception of women as self-sacrificing, maternal angels, and in this, the echo of past heroine-villains, such as the figure of Anna Karenina can be heard. As historically accurate as it is fantastically gripping, and in an age where the easiest, and arguably most fatal thing to do is shut our eyes, O’Brien’s novel opens ours and raises awareness, placing yet another cog in that machine which drives towards that seemingly inevitable end of history repeating itself.
Review by Francoise le Clercq.
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