Woman Of State by Simon Berthon

The Blurb On The Back:

From 1990s Belfast to the corridors of Whitehall.

To catch a traitor you must first walk among them.

SECRETS

1991, Belfast.  The IRA have their sights set on an undercover British policeman.  Rising star of the movement Joseph Kennedy recruits his 18-year-old girlfriend Maire Anne McCartney as a honey trap.  She is told it is a one-off.  There will be no violence.  But the man is murdered.

To save herself, Maire must flee across the border and take on a new identity.

STATE

Present day, London.  Renowned human rights lawyer Anne-Marie Gallagher is elected as an MP in the UK General Election and fast-tracked to the role of Minister of State for Security and Immigration.

At the same time, the Belfast police receive an anonymous call.  The password is verified from the Troubles, and the co-ordinates lead DCI Jon Carne to a field.  And a body.

BETRAYAL

When the new Minister receives a message from Joseph Kennedy, she realises that the identity she has crafted is at risk of being uncovered.  And when Carne’s investigation brings Anne-Marie to his attention, she must decide where her allegiances lie.  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 1991 in Belfast.  Maire Anne McCartney is looking forward to a glittering future: good A level results have resulted in her getting a scholarship to read law at Trinity College, Dublin.  Then her boyfriend, Joseph Kennedy, asks her to prove her sympathy for the IRA by seducing an undercover British policeman into going to a flat so that the IRA can use him to send a message to the British.  He promises Maire that there’ll be no violence but this is a lie.  The policeman is murdered and Maire finds herself under arrest …

26 years later, Anne-Marie Gallagher (a celebrated human rights lawyer) is elected as Labour MP for Lambeth North.  Unusually, she’s also fast-tracked into government and given the role as Minister for Security and Immigration – pitched as a liberal counterweight to hard-line Home Secretary, Steve Whalley.  But then the Belfast police get a telephone call using an old IRA code word that sends them to a field where DCI Jon Carne finds a body and Anne-Marie gets a call from Joseph Kennedy who has a secret he wants to share with her or else he’ll reveal everything she’s fought to keep secret from her old life …

Simon Berthon’s debut political thriller is a sturdy if predictable affair that clunkily weaves the 1990s IRA ceasefire and eventual Good Friday Agreement together with the machinations of modern politics and surveillance culture but the central character is far too naïve to be wholly credible either as a lawyer or a politician and although there’s an opening for a sequel I’m not sure there’s enough here for me to read on.

The big flaw in the book for me is Anne-Marie because although I believed in the 18-year-old version of her and how she got in over her head, her subsequent behaviour at university didn’t strike me as believable (not least her credulousness in her relationship with David, the twist of which is obvious from the get go).  She’s even worse in the present where she blunders from set-up to set-up, apparently oblivious to how being a Minister means she’s subject to more scrutiny and I completely didn’t buy how she thought she’d be able to stand as an MP without anyone ever digging up her past.

Fortunately DCI Carne is more interesting and I wanted to see more of him on the page (even if the push for a burgeoning romance with Anne-Marie seemed strained) because his relationship with the Belfast old-timer cop Billy gave interesting insights into the Belfast of the Troubles.

Ultimately even though the twists in this book are predictable and I’m not convinced that Anne-Marie has the weight to carry a sequel, the writing is sturdy and it deals with a period of history that doesn’t often get much fiction time so even though I wouldn’t necessarily read a follow-up, I would be interested to check out whatever else Berthon writes.

WOMAN OF STATE was released in the United Kingdom on 13th July 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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