ECHOLAND by JOE JOYCE : a review


Veteran journalist author and playwright Joe Joyce ( the man who co-wrote The Boss, the seminal book on the Charlie Haughey era) has turned his hand to thrillers. And his fiction is just as accomplished as his political writing.

In ” Echoland”, Joe Joyce has produced an entertaining and atmospheric historical thriller set in Dublin in June 1940. France is about to fall to the Nazis, Britain seems next and an air of uncertainly grips Ireland, not helped by wartime censorship. Most people want to remain neutral but some see a German victory as a way of advancing a united Ireland.

Paul Duggan is a young lieutenant assigned to G2, Army Intelligence, where, together with a Special Branch detective, Peter Gifford, he is tasked with investigating a suspected German spy living in Merrion Square. He is distracted almost immediately by approaches from his uncle, a scheming Fianna Fail T.D., to help find his daughter, who has disappeared after a row. As the story unfurls there are developments and crossovers between Paul’s official and personal affairs, with the IRA intruding into both.

Joyce cleverly interweaves a fictional account with contemporary real life events and people. Herman Goertz, the most important German spy active in Ireland during the war features, as do the German ambassador and his deputy.

The main plot revolves around mystifying correspondence between the Merrion Square suspect (who deliberately leads his embarrassed watchers daily through Swttzer’s lingerie department) and an address, identified as German intelligence, in Copenhagen. Clearly the correspondence is coded, but what is the real message? Is it, as the Irish authorities suspect, negotiations to supply the IRA with weapons to support a German invasion?

All the official doubts and paranoia of the time, with Ireland struggling to maintain her neutrality faced with a difficult international scene, and no easy options, are well conveyed. Ditto the double dealing and deceit over the distraction of Paul’s missing cousin. There are further twists and revelations as the pace increases towards the exciting climax.

The story paints an evocative picture of Dublin at the time. The aroma of cigarettes seems to rise from the pages; it is the era when everyone smoked. While there are cars, the prevalent private transport is by bicycle, with tram tracks everywhere. A date means a trip to the cinema. There is radio only. The pace of life is slower.
The author also points up the naïve confidence of some, epitomised in Paul’s uncle, that the British were beaten, that the Irish could see off the Germans, as they had the British decades earlier. Even more naïve were those who believed that the Nazis posed no threat because we were either too far away or were potential allies. The other neutrals “were in the way – but we’re not.”

Paul, even though a young man, is already more realistic. Visiting his parents in the west, he hears that his father (old IRA) had gone out with the LDF following rumours that the Germans had landed in Galway. “ Shotguns against Stukas, he thought.”

Joyce’s novel brilliantly portrays the atmosphere at the time, full of edgy uncertainty. It brings our neutrality during the war years to life and the questions that neutrality raised.

A great holiday read.

August 2013


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