Rory Clements- Nucleus

June 1939. England is partying like there is no tomorrow, gas masks at the ready. In Cambridge the May Balls are played out with a frantic intensity – but the good times won’t last… In Europe, the Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, and in Germany the persecution of the Jews is now so widespread that desperate Jewish parents send their children to safety in Britain aboard the Kindertransport. Closer to home, the IRA’s S-Plan bombing campaign has resulted in more than 100 terrorist outrages around England. But perhaps the most far-reaching event of all goes largely unreported: in Germany, Otto Hahn has produced the first man-made fission and an atomic device is now a very real possibility. The Nazis set up the Uranverein group of physicists: its task is to build a superbomb. The German High Command is aware that British and US scientists are working on similar line. Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is where the atom was split in 1932. Might the Cambridge men now win the race for a nuclear bomb? Hitler’s generals need to be sure they know all the Cavendish’s secrets. Only then will it be safe for Germany to wage war.
When one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is once more drawn into an intrigue from which there seems no escape. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin and from Washington DC to the west coast of Ireland, he faces deadly forces that threaten the fate of the world…

Brace yourselves for more conspiracy, subterfuge and a good dose of derring-do in Nucleus, an accomplished follow up to the brilliant Corpus , which first introduced us to dashing American academic Tom Wilde. Must admit I was on tenterhooks waiting for this next book after the explosive and captivating events of the first outing…

Rory Clements could not have picked a better era as the backdrop for these books, with Europe on the cusp of war, the reluctance of America to be drawn into the crossfire, the race for the harnessing of atomic power, and the hotbed of Cambridge academia where the security services plucked the finest and the best for a life of espionage. Throw into the mix a missing young German boy, the son of a prominent scientist, the increasing occurrence of IRA activity, and a smattering of Hollywood glamour, and the scene is set for a rich reading experience indeed. As in Corpus, Clements is incredibly proficient at drawing on the salient historical detail of the period, and the subtleties of the underlying political and racial conflicts, without compromising the tautness and tension of the plot itself. I think when I reviewed the previous book, I made a similar point that as I was fairly unfamiliar with this period, I came out of the book with an enriched and enhanced knowledge of the era, as Clements is so good with this balance of detail and narrative. I was fascinated by not only the background to the race for atomic supremacy, but also the Quaker involvement in shepherding so many Jewish children to safety from the increasing persecution of their families in Germany. This latter theme of the book is incredibly important in one character’s foray to Berlin, at an incredibly dangerous time, and I thought this aspect of the book was very well executed indeed, with a palpable sense of peril. I was also impressed with Clements’ handling of each branch of his storyline, as referenced above, and the balance that he keeps between them, pivoting the readers’ attention between them effortlessly, but maintaining the harmony overall, and never to the detriment of our engagement with his cast of characters.

After a hiatus in reading Corpus and Nucleus appearing, I was drawn back instantly into the world of Tom Wilde, a character that has obviously stayed in my mind since, and equally with Lydia Morris, whose personal involvement with Tom has moved on apace in the meanwhile- admittedly with some tribulations along the way. Although they are the real lynchpin to both books, Clements surrounds them again with an interesting, and broad ranging supporting cast, who enliven and colour the story further, and arouse in the reader a mixture of empathy, revulsion or distrust depending on their interactions with Tom and Lydia themselves. By carefully manipulating the foibles, duplicity or amiability of this surrounding cast, Clements has the opportunity to produce a couple of real sucker punch moments, which surprise and unsettle the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed being drawn into this world of contrasting nationalities, social standing and their guiding beliefs, some abhorrent, some not. It’s a rich mix, and carries the book along with aplomb.

All in all, Nucleus is a very satisfying thriller that captures the spirit of the era perfectly, enlightens the reader with its intelligent, but never overpowering, use of historical and social detail, and provides a wide ranging and engaging group of characters, who perfectly fit the model of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Believe me, you’ll be consistently changing your mind as to who belongs to each category…

(With thanks to Zaffre Books for the ARC)

 

 

Annemarie Neary- Siren

b2c884_18036d56c0324f78b3cd43bcd5d3f4b8Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth. Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

With jacket quotes from the brilliant  Stuart Neville and  Liz Nugent and the promise of being a stand out addition to the Irish crime genre, the lure of Siren was irresistible to this reviewer…

I was astounded by the incredible balance of narrative, location and characterisation throughout this impressive debut novel from Neary, with all aspects of the book working in complete harmony with one another. No mean feat for a new writer, and showing a degree of skill that some writers take more than a few books to achieve. Set against the reverberating echo of The Troubles, one of the most contentious and defining conflicts of the twentieth century, Neary has constructed a tale that effortlessly intertwines a present and past timeline that slowly uncoils revealing small nuggets of bitter truths, as the reader progresses through Róisín’s compelling and thought provoking story.

As Róisín embarks on her personal mission of retribution, the violent and emotive details of her involvement in a honey trap in her teenage years, resulting in the murder of two soldiers slowly unfolds. Neary demonstrates through her portrayal of Róisín’s adolescent years the prescient dangers and threats of danger that overshadowed the lives of many in Belfast in this tumultuous period, and the skeletons in the closet of Róisín’s family itself. Likewise, the simmering rage and desire for revenge that Róisín harbours for Lonergan himself is never far from the surface, and which reveals itself in a series of flashbacks to his manipulation of her in previous events. Róisín is a wonderfully well-drawn character, and contains a mass of contradictions, as she gravitates between clear-sighted belief in her actions, underscored by moments of incredible sensitivity and self doubt. If ever a character was written to elicit empathy in the reader, Neary has this pretty much spot on, as Róisín is never less than a totally believable and sympathetic character. To further draw on the characterisation of this book, I loved the way that was a certain shadowy pall around the male protagonists, as Neary never really gives the reader a complete picture of their motivations, choosing to keep them to a larger degree, slightly shrouded from our unflinching gaze. If this was a deliberate move on the author’s part it was a wise one as this incompleteness to their definition added a further level of menace to them and their interactions with Róisín herself. Also choosing to set the contemporary story on the grim outcrop of Lamb Island, instead of keeping the action centred in Belfast itself, worked very well. The air of impending violence and fear that Róisín experiences is heightened substantially by the bleakness of the surrounding island landscape, and the isolation of her temporary abode on the island from where she embarks on her vengeful mission.

I was incredibly impressed with this debut, with its pitch perfect mix of extreme human emotions, combined with the resonance of history. Neary has achieved something really quite special. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)