The End of the Hunt, by Thomas Flanagan

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As Ireland marks the centennial of the Easter Rising, Thomas Flanagan’s nearly two thousand page trilogy—The Year of the French, The Tenants of Time, and The End of the Hunt—immerses readers in Ireland’s struggles between 1798 and 1923, culminating with the creation of the Irish Free State.

The Year of the French describes the ill-fated attempt by the “Dublin Directorate,” a cadre of nationalistic philosophers and poets that attempted to bring a version of the French Revolution to Ireland. French soldiers joined the poorly armed Fenians of County Mayo against the landlords and the constabulary. After an initial Fenian success, the English army surrounded the rebels. They took the French soldiers as prisoners of war and bayoneted the surviving Irishmen.

The Tenants of Time tells of a later uprising, led by Irish-Americans who shared their military acumen developed during the American Civil War.

The third volume, The End of the Hunt—with a cast of thousands, including dozens of historical characters speaking in their own words—addresses timely and universal issues, including oppression, terrorism, and compromise. The story begins after the Easter Rising but reflects on the Rising’s leading characters and events: the survivors, those that died, and importantly the widows of the fallen Fenians. It tracks the careers of guerrilla operatives and their evolving relations with the leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, progressing to their eventual choice of sides in the Irish Civil War.

Although the history of the period is a matter of record, Thomas Flanagan re-presents the facts in flesh and blood, with romance, adventure, glory and tragedy. He rotates the narration and point of view among six characters, exposing many facets of complex issues. One narrator may build suspense leading to a critical event. The next may look back at the consequences of the event, rather than the event itself. Early on, point-of-view characters work in concert. Later, some wish the others harm.

The brightest thread among the interwoven stories features a romance between a Castle Catholic widow, Janice Nugent, and Christopher Blake. Janice craves excitement through a relationship with Blake, a suave Fenian “gunman” with close ties to Michael Collins, a leading figure in the Irish Republican Army. This romantic tragedy forms the final knot in the skein of stories, and features prominently in the haunting conclusion to The End of the Hunt.

The Easter Rising of 1916 was neither the origin of the Irish struggle for independence nor its conclusion. The Irish had endured 700 years of occupation, humiliation and genocide, “but an enduring people were becoming a risen people … able to conquer because they could suffer the most.” Padraig Pearse at the burial of O’Donovan Rossa declared, “They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”  Within months “a Republic was proclaimed by Pearse from the steps of the GPO [General Post Office in Dublin], and it was ratified by his blood and the blood of the other men who were shot with him at Kilmainham [Gaol]” .

The English suppression of the Easter Rising of 1916, and the execution of sixteen of its leaders, gave rise to a unique reaction: a “different kind of war and a different kind of enemy. … Fellows with a few thousand rifles bringing an empire to its knees, an imperial army no less … .”  Unfortunately, these same Irish patriots were later to “fall fighting each other, killing each other.”

If the British Empire began with the capture of Ireland, then its demise began with Ireland’s liberation. A living nation, Ireland would rise from the graves of its martyrs. Prime Minister Lloyd George—his own government caught between the Tories, the Irish Republican Army and the demands of the Empire embroiled in World War I—confirmed Irish sentiments when he said, “Lose Ireland and the rot begins.”

The Fenians made a nuisance of themselves. Small, guerilla units—“flying columns”—waged an ugly war, and sooner or later, they hoped, the English would get tired of it and make a deal. When they ambushed their first lorry filled with RIC (Irish policemen working for the English), the Tories called them a “murder gang” and advocated the reincarnation of  Cromwellian genocide.

To compound Lloyd George’s difficulties, the flying columns of the IRA, which today might be called terrorist cells, continued their hit-and-run, take-no-prisoners attacks. They burned houses of loyalists and 258 abandoned RIC police stations. A massive attack on the Custom House in Dublin destroyed centuries of stored records belonging to nine government departments, wiping out England’s bureaucratic control of Ireland.

Both sides agreed to a truce and a potential solution to the seven centuries of England’s control of Ireland. Neither Éamon de Valera nor Michael Collins, leaders of the two factions on the Irish side, liked what Lloyd George and Winston Churchill had to offer—the division of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, both still bound to the King of England. They realized that Ireland would get no more than England would give. The alternative was to continue the war, but against a much larger and better organized British military. They also realized that those who fought and the widows of those who died would accept nothing less than a Republic. Furthermore, should the government of Lloyd George and Winston Churchill fall, a Tory-controlled Parliament would bring fire and the sword into Ireland.

A compromise could give the Irish freedom to run their own affairs. To the Republicans (as in IRA), compromise betrayed the sacrifices made in the name of the Irish Republic, proclaimed on the steps of the GPO during the Easter Rising.

Mick Collins led the delegation to London and eventually compromised, accepting the Irish Free State. The Tories considered him nothing more than a gunman, although liberal Englishman and the newspapers had developed a crush on Collins, as if he were a Twentieth Century Scarlet Pimpernel, a master of disguise and intrigue, the brains behind the “flying columns.”

De Valera led the debate against the Free State. Although the Provisional Irish Parliament approved it, factions of the IRA rebelled, leading to the Irish Civil War.

Flanagan’s storytelling charms the reader, although at times strays into a maze of seemingly unrelated prose. Elsewhere, clarity prevails in both the narration and dialogue. In the heel of the hunt—the final chapters—the reader feels the pain of separation from a host of tragic, but all too haunting characters who must remain locked between the covers of the book.

Flavia 006: The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley

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Trains, planes and automobiles, along with Winston Churchill and a military escort greeted Hillary de Luce upon her return to her husband, her daughters and her ancestral estate: Buckshaw. Thus began episode 006 of the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series. Alan Bradley had left Flavia, his protagonist, the youngest of those de Luce daughters, dangling at the conclusion of volume 005, only to have her land in volume 006 with one foot in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and the other in Kim’s Game as described by Rudyard Kipling.

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches introduced major plot shifts, revelations, reconciliations and retributions. Relics of the past flickered and flew into view, unveiling secrets that stretched back through three hundred years of de Luce history and service to king and country.  Flavia’s new and more durable personal nemesis emerged, Undine: younger, equal and opposite, perhaps brighter and potentially more dangerous than Flavia. Was she a usurper, a snoop or just a lonely child looking for a friend?

Flavia passed through a substantial stage of metamorphosis to an elevated sense of power and confidence and yet at times she was more flustered than she had ever been. Most importantly, she did emerge as a far more formidable Flavia as she began her trek toward volume 007.

Reviews of mysteries, especially a series in which the initiated would have shunned spoilers other than those offered by the publisher, must focus on style rather than substance. Alan Bradley often invited the reader to tea, a break in the action, an apparent distraction, where the author installed words in place as would a jeweler carefully set a variety of brilliant stones within the gold of a magnificent brooch. There was no better way to review Bradley’s skill than to quote the author on various aspects of volume 006, or as he would have had Flavia say, “Let’s take another squint…”

At their current situation:

We were told the when, the where, and the how of everything, but never the why.

Churchill…still had certain secrets which he kept even from God.

Logical beyond question but at the same time mad as a March hare

At her father:

Windows were as essential to my father’s talking as his tongue.

He stood frozen in his own private glacier.

Father, the checkmated king, gracious, but fatally wounded in defeat

(With Churchill) These two seemingly defeated men, brothers in something I could not even begin to imagine.

At her sister Ophelia:

The image of bereaved beauty, she simply glowed with grief.

Feely had the knack of being able to screw one side of her face into a witchlike horror while keeping the other as sweet and demure as a maiden from Tennyson.

She knew me as well as the magic mirror knew the wicked queen.

Her complexion—at least since its volcanic activity settled down

Her voice suddenly as cold and stiff as whipped egg whites

At Flavia on Flavia:

I wanted to curl up like a salted slug and die.

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand in case of overlooked jam or drool.

One of the marks of a truly great mind…is to be able to feign stupidity on demand.

The comforting reek of nitrocellulose lacquer

It smelled as if a coffee house in the slums of Hell had been hit by lightning.

That bump in her bloomers was me! (A comment on a photo of her pregnant mother)

My emotions were writhing inside me like snakes in a pit.

There is a strange strength in secrets which can never be achieved by spilling one’s guts.

I slept the sleep of the damned, tossing and turning as if I were lying in a bed of smoldering coals.

My mouth tasted as if a farmer had stored turnips in it while I slept.

My brain came instantly up to full throttle.

There are few instances in life where, in spite of everything, one had to swallow one’s heart and go it alone, and this was one of them.

Giving praise at every silent step for the invention of carpets

My knees gave off an alarming crack.

At flying:

And with a roar the propeller disappeared in a blur.

The roar became a tornado and we began to move.

And then a sudden smoothness…we were flying!

Beneath our wings the marvelous toy world slid slowly by…miniature sheep grazed in handkerchief pastures.

At trains:

The gleaming engine panted into the station and squealed to a stop at the edge of the platform.

(The train) sat resting for a few moments in the importance of its own swirling steam.

At music:

Each note hung for an instant like a cold, crystalline drop of water melting from the end of an icicle.

Humming mindlessly to herself like a hive of distant bees

The music faded and died among the beams and king posts of the ancient roof.

The organ fell silent as if suddenly embarrassed at what it had done.

At children:

They had lost more than one baby in the making and I could only pray that the next one would be a howling success.

“You’re a child.” “Of course I am, but that’s hardly a reason to treat me like one.”

As we await volume 007, we might expect a twelve-year-old Flavia who would have behaved not so much as her teen-aged sisters but as her mother Harriet. The relevance of the photo of Churchill’s statue in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada will become apparent to the readers of volume 006.

Bradley, Alan. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. New York: Delacorte Press, 2014.

(© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

The Monument

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In the distance ahead, a statue loomed amid the park benches and the ubiquitous, tame, mendicant, municipal pigeons.

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From the looks of it I judged: “This bronze must honor a politician. Who else would have the supreme confidence to strut his stuff like this?” As a visitor, ignorant of local celebrities, I ventured, he’s probably a former Mayor of Halifax, perhaps a Premier. Soon enough, I could see his familiar face, grand, determined; untroubled by the rain. He had weathered many a storm in his day. We remember him still.

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