The sole survivor of a murderous ambush, a Belfast police detective is forced into a desperate search for a mysterious informer that takes him to a holy island on Lough Derg, a place shrouded in strange mists and hazy rain, where nothing is as it first appears to be. A keeper of secrets and a purveyor of lies, the detective finds himself surrounded by enemies disguised as pilgrims, and is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the purgatorial island, where he is forced to confront a series of disturbing secrets and ghosts in his own life…
Have thoroughly enjoyed Anthony J. Quinn’s previous books so was keen as mustard to read Turncoat, his latest thriller. With an overarching sense of unease and threat permeating the book from the very outset, this was undoubtedly one of the darkest books I have read as well as providing much food for thought…
With the majority of the book taking place on Station Island in Lough Derg, a site where pilgrims enter a state of “internal wilderness, determined to save their souls and find salvation,” traversing the island endlessly barefoot, praying and fasting, which had earned the island the dubious accolade of being “one of the most lonely and frightful places in the known world.” Grim does not even begin to cover it, and Quinn doesn’t hold back in totally immersing us in this dark, sinister and frankly utterly creepy locale. His sense of atmosphere and place is absolutely superb as he cleverly entrenches us in this hostile landscape with his razor sharp descriptions of not only the terrain, but how this begins to stealthily impact on the mental and physical being of the central character Detective Desmond Maguire. Quinn skilfully draws on psychogeography as the hostile environment and climate seeps under the skin of Maguire, who let’s face it, is already undergoing a fair amount of mental torment due to events leading up to this unforced exile, and stealthily begins to permeate both his conscience and consciousness of his actions. It’s brilliantly done, and the sense of tension and threat resonates throughout, as Maguire begins to wrestle with his inner demons.
Maguire is a mercurial and tormented man, pivoting between state of anger, anguish, denial and despair, on the trail of a mysterious informer, who will hopefully exonerate Maguire from claims against him of coercion and betrayal. Firmly rooted within Ireland pre-peace process, Maguire is a Catholic officer within the RUC which brings its own dangers and suspicion, and the perceived wisdom that he is somehow colluding with the IRA adds to stress and tension that plays out in his character throughout the book. He is full of self-pity and feelings of guilt and anger, and it would be easy to have him labelled as a lost cause, but every so often we gain little insights into the man he could be, and wants to be, above the slightly murky perception we have of him, and he of himself. As he throws himself into his own wilderness, it is interesting to see these slight shifts and changes in his character, and Quinn integrates these incredibly well indeed right up until the heated and violent conclusion to the book.
Quinn undoubtedly keeps us firmly rooted in the politics and violence synonymous with this period in Ireland, and balances the book between the violence and suspicion of the Troubles, the hope of a lasting peace still a stone’s throw away, and interweaving the grip of religion on all sides for good or bad. I found the religious aspect of the book played out in the pilgrim’s actions on Station Island incredibly hard to comprehend, and was intrigued as to why these seemingly normal people would want to put themselves through this excruciating and metaphysical experience. I did find it utterly fascinating though, on a psychological level, that this strength of belief would compel them to enter this purgatorial state in the hope of some kind of redemption, much the same as we believe Maguire to be seeking. Adding this to Quinn’s astute rendition of atmosphere and place, and the unsettling and changeable character of Maguire himself, Turncoat was both compelling and gripping, full of subterfuge, blind alleys and, as it says in the synopsis, where nothing, and no-one, is as they first appear. Highly recommended.
(With thanks to No Exit Press for the ARC)
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