Friday, March 8, 2019

SAY NOTHING :: Patrick Radden Keefe

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Say Nothing ticks all the boxes of a remarkable work of nonfiction. This particular story of the political and nationalist conflict in Ireland (the Troubles) highlights a handful of spellbinding individuals whose actions changed the course of Irish history. Through meticulous reporting captivatingly relayed by investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing offers a thrilling history lesson told through the lens of an unsolved mystery.

Murders were part and parcel of the Troubles, with more than 3,500 killed between the late 1960s and '90s. But only 16 were "disappeared"--abducted, murdered and secretly buried. Among them was Jean McConville, a 38-year-old mother of 10 when a gang of masked intruders took her from her home in Belfast in 1972. It took 30 years to recover Jean's remains.

The hows and whys of her death are spun through decades of violence, jailbreaks, movie star romance, former-felon politicians, hunger strikes, and double- and triple-agents of the IRA and British police. Most incredibly, a secret cache of IRA confessionals lies waiting in the special Treasure Room enclosure of a Boston College library. Truth is undoubtedly stranger than fiction.

Any retelling of the Troubles worth its salt is necessarily lengthy and complex. By sandwiching it between arcs on the Treasure Room, the mystery of Jean McConville and how all the secrets came unraveled, Keefe breathes new life into history. As evidenced by the nearly 100 pages of notes and secondary sources, this was no small feat. Keefe's work is both anguishing and triumphant.

STREET SENSE: The mystery of Jean McConville and how it unraveled was spellbinding. The middle was a little too detailed for my particular tastes and I lost my gumption a tiny bit. As noted above, however, it's tough to tell a down and dirty story that is so intertwined with the history of the Troubles and its various factions and participants. Understanding that, Keefe did a great job, it just resulted in a little speed-reading now and again. For those of you who love getting lost in the details, it will probably feel spot-on.

COVER NERD SAYS: I hate to admit this, but I was lured into this one by a PR statement from Gillian Flynn. I am not generally a fan of blurbs and usually ignore them, but (1) I don't see Flynn's name tossed around promoting many books and (2) it wasn't technically a blurb. This cover probably would have caught my eye regardless, minimalist lover of all things dark that I am. If anything, this cover might go a bit too stark and has a hint of the DIY look, but there's no contesting the image is compelling and makes up for what the font or spacing take away.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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