Violence Between Nationalists and Unionists Engages Canadians
Heather Fegan reviews Anne Emery’s Though the Heavens Fall
Though the Heavens Fall
In the 10th installment of Anne Emery’s Collins-Burke mystery series, Though the Heavens Fall, lawyer Monty Collins and friend Father Brennan Burke are in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The year is 1995, nearing the end of The Troubles, a three-decade conflict (or violent guerilla war) over the status of Northern Ireland between nationalists (many Irish and Roman Catholic) and unionists (many British and Protestant).
The IRA has called a ceasefire and Monty is on assignment from Halifax with a Belfast law firm. Brennan is along to reconnect with family, some of who have long been entangled with the Northern Ireland Conflict and the provisional IRA. Despite the ceasefire, Monty and his wife Maura decide it’s safer for the family (Maura and their youngest kids, Normie and Dominic) to stay in Dublin during their stint in Ireland. Maura is on a leave of absence from her job as a professor at Dalhousie Law School and is lecturing at the University College of Dublin’s Law School and the kids are busy with school and their new nanny.
And so the stage is set for the mystery, crime, violence and confusion that ensues as the past inevitably rises up to haunt everyone involved. Monty is excited when the opportunity arises to take on some extra cases on the side. Criminal cases that are more his speed as a criminal defense lawyer. Cases the other lawyers in the firm won’t touch. Little does he know his seemingly innocent efforts to win a lawsuit for a deserving family will set in motion a series of events that will uncover unsolved crimes, bringing a very heavy price involving people he knows in Belfast.
Brennan happily goes about his time catching up with extended family and working in a new ministry with the added bonus of teaching music, his biggest passion, at Holy Cross Girls’ School. He’s positive and hopeful of the work his cousin Ronan Burke is pursuing, that of negotiating peace talks in an attempt to work out an agreement for Northern Ireland, despite resistance from both sides, and working towards a possible political role in a future peacetime government. Brennan is willing to help whenever he can, even endangering himself in the name of family, when light starts to shine on secrets from the dark and shady past.
It’s at the very start of the book, on a night out at the pubs in Belfast, when Monty and Brennan reflect on being “in a place now where justice and the rule of law have been taking a thumping for over twenty-five years.” They are certainly going to discover what exactly passes for law in 1995 Belfast.
This is a hefty book with a lot of history and a lot of politics. But it all comes together and the details are relevant. Emery explains legal proceedings clearly, without bogging us down in legalese.
It does take a bit of research (Google) to keep up with the Irish history if one is not familiar with it.
Emery develops a wide range of characters really well, from young Normie to the lawyer, to the priest to Northern Ireland insurgents.
Emery has said her scenes are often inspired by music or lyrics. In this case, it’s Irish traditional ballads along with IRA rebel songs. Elements of music and architecture, with several references throughout, are strong.
Monty becomes very brave, very early in the book, taking on criminal defence cases involving terrorism, murder and the IRA, meeting potential witnesses—strangers—in the woods. I questioned whether someone would really jump into this territory quite so quickly.
Brennan is an equally strong character. Monty and Brennan hide certain things from each other, crucial details with profound outcomes. One wonders what they thought would happen, becoming so deeply involved in such criminality. The story reads and feels so much like a detective mystery it’s hard to remember the characters are lawyers and priests turned sleuths.
Though the Heavens Fall keeps us on our toes until the bitter end. And based on that ending, the sequel will be a must-read too.