The Miami Showband Massacre:
A Survivor's Search For the Truth Steven Travers and Neil Fetherstonhaugh Hodder Ireland 19 301pps LOOKING back now, it was as though the whole island had been bludgeoned into insensibility. On their way back from a gig in Banbridge on July 1975, the Miami Showband were stopped at a military checkpoint. Music and sport are believed to be placating influences. Those manning the checkpoint did not think so. As the musicians are lined up on the roadside, a bomb being placed inside their minibus goes off prematurely. Travers is hurled into the air. Lands far away enough to avoid immediate death, but he hears the screams of his colleagues as they are shot to pieces. He is assumed dead but somehow survives. Now, 32 years on, he returns to the scene, then to Belfast to find answers, to understand, to make sense of what happened. This is a chilling read culminating in a chilling encounter with a UVF man who regrets that he and his fellow butchers "didn't do more".
Sean Treacy and the Tan War By Joe Ambrose Mercier Press 13 224pps THE exhumation of the War of Independence goes on.
What makes the present dig a fresh one is the author's argument on the uniqueness of Tipperary's place in that war. Ambrose is a Co Tipp man, so you would expect nothing less. That aside, the county did produce two emblematic figures in the murderously efficient Dan Breen and the 'Boys Own' swashbuckling character of Sean Treacy. Both led the Third Tipperary Brigade. Both wreaked havoc across the county, which they saw as their own fiefdom, actually avoiding receiving instructions from GHQ. It was a case of the central command hound being wagged by the Co Tipp tail. Nowhere was this more in evidence than the springing of IRA men from jails and the unheroic killing of two RIC men at Sologhodbeg Co Tipp, the incident that actually sparked the Tan War.
Monarchy: England & Her Rulers From the Tudors To The Windsors By David Starkey Harper £9.00 362pps SELF-INTEREST, cruelty, torture, betrayal, jealousies, murder, madness. Could be a re-run of early 'Eastenders'. Actually, people watching the TV series 'The Tudors' will find the opening of Starkey's magisterial study of British royalty a great source of reference; the index is a joy.
Starkey dismisses the 20th century in a few pages and concentrates on the bloodthirsty 16th and 17th centuries. The only recent throwback to 'The Tudors' was Edward VII, who actually resembled Henry VIII in looks. Edward VII actually made pleasure a profession.
Back to the 16th and 17th centuries, then. They're all here. Anne Boleyn, the Pope, Cardinal Wolsey, poor Anne of Cleves . . . the brood mare in Henry's stable, Cromwell who actually killed kings and of course Sir Thomas More, the only straight man in a crooked world.
Signed, Mata Hari: A Novel By Yannick Murphy Abacus £10.00 276pps MARGARETHA ZELLE, aka Mata Hari, was the most talked about woman of her final days. Most of that talk was myth and Murphy's recreation of the woman's troubled life is as convincingly close to the facts as we are likely to get. The book opens in October 1917 at Saint Lazare prison outside Paris where Margaretha tells the story of her life to Sister Leonide, apparently a very broadminded nun because what she hears is erotically charged. Zelle's life was highly colourful. She danced semi-nude for European royalty and posed for artists. What is doubtful, is her career as a German spy, which has her in jail on charges of espionage. At worst she was simply a courier for the Germans. She was executed and, imaginatively speaking, Murphy brings her back to sympathetic life.
The Raw Shark Texts By Steven Hall Canongate £8.00 427pps WEIRD is the word to apply to this debut. Hall's character, Eric Sanderson, is about to begin his second life. On the unspecified death of his lover, his recall of the past hits a trip switch and everything goes blank. His psychotherapist tells him he has a disassociative condition . . . periodic memory loss. Interspersed with this is a narrative building up to how he lost his lover. To top that, he is pursued by a shark who eats memories. This is fine because the shark is only virtual.
Very tricksy, though highly amusing.