LIBERTIES PRESS 329 pp €13.99
Echowave, by popular author and journalist Joe Joyce, is the third book to feature hero Paul Duggan, a captain in Irish Army Intelligence during the early years of World War Two when Ireland strove to preserve a precarious neutrality.
Echowave, set in 1941, follows his previously acclaimed books, Echoland and Echobeat, but is also a thoroughly entertaining stand-alone novel. Like them it is a stylish and accomplished thriller which evokes the period, the political pressures and the atmosphere of the time in a markedly realistic fashion.
The Dublin of 1941 is brought to life, from the huge mound of turf in the Phoenix Park – the “New Bog Road” as the Dublin wits had it – to a society where reliance on the black market to counter wartime shortages was almost a prerequisite for survival. Additionally. much of the book’s action takes place in Lisbon. Portugal, like Ireland, was a neutral country and Lisbon, because of its location, was the European spy centre during the War. Joyce’s portrayal of the Lisbon of the time, under the autocratic thumb of Salazar, is particularly compelling.
Now, we take our neutrality for granted. Back then it was anything but. For this was June 1941. Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany and was just emerging from the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Germany and its allies dominated the Continent and, even as it undertook the fatal mistake of attacking the Soviet Union, seemed likely to prevail over Britain. The United States was neutral, though very clearly committed to supporting Britain, through Lend-Lease and Atlantic convoys, as well as preparing for war with the first peacetime draft in 1940.
Neutral Ireland was being squeezed. Ireland was heavily dependent on Britain and her ships for vital supplies, her Atlantic ports a prize for Britain and the USA, offering a potential haven to convoys under sustained U Boat attack. Churchill was making noises about seizing them, and seemed deterred only by his military and intelligence advisers. Germany was pressing for Ireland not to favour Britain; the North Strand bombing in May 1941, killing twenty eight, emphasised what entering the war might involve.
The novel opens with Paul Duggan in Lisbon, tasked to convince German intelligence there that he is an IRA man, acting as the contact and conduit for a captured German spy, Hermann Goertz. On his return he is sent to Mayo to investigate the crash of a US plane, its cargo looted by black marketeers. The cargo was mainly consumer luxuries for the US Embassy in London, but contained also a piece of secret military hardware – the Norden bombsight – of considerable interest to the Germans. Duggan and his Special Branch associate, Peter Gifford, must find the bombsight before the Germans do. They recover it after some revealing encounters with Irish black marketeers.
But what to do then? Here a number of strands become entwined. The British want to plant some disinformation. The USA wants to catch a high level German spy ring. Ireland, with her supply situation becoming critical, needs two ships promised by the Americans who are foot-dragging over delivery. And the Germans want the bombsight. The consequences for Ireland of a wrong move could be very serious and open to misinterpretation. Paul Duggan must return to Lisbon to work out a satisfactory solution. The pace and tension are maintained to the end in what is a satisfying, highly readable and informative book about Ireland’s not too distant past.
One for the Christmas stockings.