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Veteran journalist and accomplished author Joe Joyce has written another winner.
Echobeat, a compelling and evocative thriller set in neutral Dublin as the Second World War rages, is the sequel to last year’s widely acclaimed Echoland. Paul Duggan, now a captain in G2, Irish Army Intelligence, is back, together with his Special Branch sidekick, Peter Gifford.
The time is the end of 1940 and the stakes have rarely been higher. The world is at war, and Ireland is maintaining a precarious neutrality. Britain has its back to the wall, battered by the Blitz and in danger of being starved into submission as U Boats sink large numbers of its ships. Britain is demanding use of the Irish ports and threatening to cut off vital supplies if refused, with the ultimate sanction of invasion. There are no easy options. With German bombs falling on Dublin and Carlow as 1941 dawns, the choice appears increasingly stark – not whether to fight but who.
A dangerous political tightrope has to be walked if Ireland is to stay neutral and the task of Army Intelligence is to provide the best information it can so that “ whatever happens doesn’t happen by accident,” as his boss tells Duggan. This involves tracking the source and evaluating certain highly sensitive documents about Britain’s predicaments and intentions which have become available, as well as finding Germany’s most active agent in Ireland, Hermann Goertz, on the run and protected by republican and Nazi sympathisers.
Duggan’s duties include monitoring the Liffey Street café frequented by German POWs on day parole. His life gets complicated when he becomes romantically involved with his intermediary, a Jewish refugee, Gerda, who waitresses incognito in the café. Her role becomes central when she is approached by a young Englishman, source of some of the documents. Is he a pacifist, an agent provocateur or a Nazi sympathiser?
The other documents have been supplied through Duggan’s uncle, Timmy, a scheming Fianna Fail T.D., who romances about the war of independence and Ireland’s ability to see off the Germans as they did the British, but who could be the key to finding Goertz. Timmy’s naïveté is pointed up by Gerda when she declares to Duggan that the Nazis would “ put a stop to your guerrilla war very quickly” by shooting twenty or fifty Irishmen every time a German was attacked.
Echobeat is an exciting read and more than just a page turner. The Dublin of the period is portrayed superbly. It was a time of severe petrol rationing, few private cars as a result with people relying on bikes or public transport. Shortages abounded. There was a thriving black market for coal, tea and other rationed items . Smoking was universal, the aroma of cigarettes and burning peat ubiquitous.
Yet life went on. For Ireland was at peace – “ Neutral with a certain consideration for Britain,” to quote Dev. Maintaining that neutrality was akin to a diplomatic chess game. Echobeat shows just how difficult that game was.