Johnny's Reviews > The Guns of Heaven

The Guns of Heaven by Pete Hamill
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's review
Jun 22, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: thriller

Reading Pete Hamill offers an intriguing conundrum as to whether scenes or references are only meant to be fiction or whether they are autobiographical. As a journalist/writer penning the adventures of a journalist/writer named Sammy Briscoe, one gets the feeling that Hamill has trod this ground before. One can easily imagine him interviewing a mysterious IRA commander in some seedy Belfast hotel on the Catholic side and one can easily imagine that Dexter Gordon (the great saxophone player) would have told Hamill (as well as Briscoe in the novel) about getting rooms behind the old Apollo Theater where they could watch the female performers change.

Now, some of Guns of Heaven is formulaic. One expects the obligatory effort to get guns for the IRA and one suspects that the somewhat distant journalist will be brought into the fray when he perceives his daughter as vulnerable. Exactly how and when these formulaic events take place isn’t quite as one would expect and that keeps the reader enough off-balance that there is emotional investment. One problem that I often have with my suspended disbelief in thrillers which involve journalists and political/criminal intrigue is that I can’t understand the rationale for each journalistic protagonist to be involved in the situation. Why would a journalist take on a terrorist or intelligence network at their own game on her/his own dime? Well, it is still a question in Guns of Heaven, but Hamill gives us several clues as to why Briscoe has skin in the game. Briscoe doesn’t want to be involved, but there are deaths that make it personal.

In addition, the villain (though immediately recognizable from a certain French detective axiom) is relatively typical in that said antagonist is, in turn, being manipulated by a standard conspiratorial bugaboo. Do multiple stereotypes equate to freshness? Not usually, but this is so deftly orchestrated that I was caught up in the story and drawn into something entirely different than the trope of visitor to Northern Ireland asked to deliver a message that I thought I was getting into.

This novel is important for more than the story. Some years ago, a Canadian theologian studying at Trinity College in Dublin recommended Terence P. McCaughey’s Memory & Redemption: Church, Politics and Prophetic Theology in Ireland to me in order to understand “The Troubles” and read some interesting ideas about the type of ecumenical theology that could, feasibly, address the divided culture. In that work, I read that, “The sense of being trapped in a historical cul-de-sac encourages the notion that the end is at hand.” (p. 44) The theologian wrote of desperation, but Hamill as a novelist emoted the desperation. If you want to study “The Troubles,” I urge you to try out the McCaughey book. If you want to “feel” that era and its residue in modern Irish culture, I urge you to read Guns of Heaven
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