John Corcoran reviews Dead Men Talking by Nicholas Davies, Mainstream Publishing, ISBN 1 84018 947 9, £7.99 pbk
THERE'S AN old adage that says "you can never tell a book by its cover", and since the subtitle to this publication is 'collusion, cover-up and murder in Northern Ireland's dirty war', the casual browser may be tempted to purchase this book on the basis of what appears to be revelatory accounts of the many dirty tricks undertaken by the RUC, the Force Research Unit (FRU) and the British army.
Instead, this cheaply produced collection of journalism appears to be nothing more than a thinly veiled re-hash of the numerous already well established apologia for the actions of the British dirty tricks brigade in the six counties.
There is little attempt to deny the existence of collusion - that particular cat is well and truly out of the bag. Indeed, the underlying tenor of this tale is of a job that, while regretable, was one that needed doing, and was done quite well.
Poor old Nick Davies can hardly help himself as he waxes nostalgically about the "gloves off" approach adopted by Mrs Thatcher.
He recollects with only faintly disguised happiness the days when the "iron lady" saw to the establishment of the FRU, made sure they were given "good salaries as well as generous expense accounts" not forgetting "new and better cars".
At times, this drivel reads like a British tabloid redtop title cranking up English patriotic tensions before the England soccer team embarks upon another World Cup campaign.
Unfortunately for Davies, he has to account for the fact that despite the iron lady, the better cars, the expense accounts, and all the other largely unmentioned devilish paraphernalia utilised to apply a military solution to a political problem, it didn't work. The IRA was not "crushed". Davies' explanation of this 'disappointing outcome' answer is to be found in this flat, but revealing sentence:
" Since Thatcher was ousted by her Cabinet ministers, both her successors, John Major and Tony Blair, have sought a path to peace and British military intelligence gathering has become almost quiescent."
At this point it would be remiss not to give due credit to three people Davies makes a point of thanking in his preface, "one who worked for British Military Intelligence, another who worked for many years with the RUC's Special Branch, and a third who spent a number of years in Northern Ireland working with MI5". Some of these boys, dedicated souls that they are, must spend their every living hour pouring contents into any old empty vessel who happens to be in the word-smith's trade.
Before reading this, Nick Davies book was destined for the Irish History section of my imaginary palatial library. Now its likely destination is that cardboard box found in most homes, full of trash westerns, fad diet books, Christmas cracker gifts, and those Spanish castanets you long ago brought home from Malaga.
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Copyright © 2005 John Corcoran